The secret of motivation is the holy grail that every business leader would dearly love to find.
Motivating employees seems like it should be easy. And it is — in theory. But while the concept of motivation may be straightforward, motivating employees in real-life situations is far more challenging.
As leaders, we’re asked to understand what motivates each individual on our team and manage them accordingly. That’s a challenging ask of leaders, particularly those with large or dispersed teams and those who are already overwhelmed by their own workloads.
Traditionally managers were encouraged to rely on the carrot versus stick approach for motivation. A “carrot” approach incentivises good work with rewards, while a “stick” approach uses punishment to push people towards goals.
The carrot and stick analogy originates from donkey motivation and I hope I am not doing donkeys an injustice when I say that they will do as little as they can get away with.
If we treat people like donkeys, they will form like donkeys. We must fundamentally change ideas about motivation. If people are really going to perform, they must be self-motivated.
Few managers doubt that self-motivation would be better but forcing someone to motivate themselves is a contradiction in terms.
Self-motivation sits in the mind of each individual.
The internal drive or intrinsic motivation that is specific to each person (e.g., recognition, work-life balance, respect, etc.).
The beauty behind cultivating intrinsic motivation in your people is that they’re already motivated. As a manager, your job is to foster and elicit the motivation that already exists inside of them by setting up the interpersonal conditions conducive to this.
The key to fostering intrinsic motivation in your people is simple: Put time and energy into practicing and refining a set of coaching-inspired management skills.
Coaching comes down to unlocking a person’s potential to maximize their own performance by helping them gain greater self-awareness and alignment with their values, strengths and goals. And according to research, this is exactly what people want in a manager — it is no secret that the majority of employees value learning and professional development above most other aspects of a job.
The days of command-and-control leadership as a standard way of managing people are long gone.
When managers adopt a coaching mindset and approach it improves employees’ motivation levels, and performance and boosts satisfaction with both their job and manager. In other words, great managers are now defined by their desire and ability to grow the people around them.
Yet many managers too frequently find themselves firefighting, struggling to get the job done. By their own admission, they are unable to devote the time they feel they should to long-term planning, to visioning, to taking the overview, to surveying alternatives, the competition, new products and the like.
Most importantly, they are unable to devote the time to growing the people, to staff development. They send them on a training course or two and kid themselves that that will do it. They seldom get their money’s worth.
So how can managers find the time to coach the staff? It is so much quicker to dictate. The paradoxical answer is that if they coach their staff, the developing staff shoulder much greater responsibility, freeing the manager from firefighting not only to coach more but to attend to those overarching issues that only they can address.
Of the four criteria that cause us to choose our management behaviour, the development of our staff gets the lowest priority. At the head of the list comes time pressure, then fear, then the quality of the job or the product, leaving staff development a poor fourth. Shortage of time and excess fear drives us into command and control, while the quality of work and the need for development demand coaching.
It comes as little surprise that coaching is side-lined by short-termism and the urgency of shareholder return. However, most employees today, especially younger ones, want their work to be of value and have meaning and purpose. Lining the pockets of shareholders is no longer seen as meaningful. Companies are obliged to consider more carefully their values and the needs of all the stakeholders, employees, customers, the community and the environment.
So, growing people is enlightened self-interest rather than idealism that offers no added value. Sure, at times it will be all hands to the pumps and to hell with the niceties. But that is acceptable and accepted in a culture in which people feel cared for.