If you run an organisation, manage a department or lead a team you will understand exactly how important motivation is to your productivity as well as the productivity of others. In many ways, motivation is the secret sauce of success. When employees are motivated, they want to work harder and they will choose to do more.
Not only that but motivated teams are also a force to be reckoned with. In the truest sense of the word, groups of employees that are fuelled and energised by motivation are dynamic and agile entities. Those that comprise these teams encourage, strengthen and empower each other, becoming much more than the sum of their parts.
Realistically, whilst motivation cannot be contracted or mandated, neither is it the equivalent of catching ‘lightning in a bottle’. Like so much of organisational development practice, motivation is part art and part science. To that extent, it can be cultivated, nurtured, harnessed and replicated.
This blog assumes knowledge and therefore does not focus on common methodologies for employee motivation (eg: recognition, delegation, visibility and communication). Instead, it profiles those approaches that are equally important but often over-looked or unappreciated.
With the introduction complete, set out below are seven uncommon methodologies for employee motivation.
1. Organisational authenticity
Authenticity is infrequently acknowledged in the context of employee motivation. When an organisation is deemed to be authentic it is believed to have integrity and integrity (through credibility, confidence and trust) mainlines all the way to influence. Without influence there is simply no means to form the relationship through which a workforce can be motivated. Employees expect their work to be appraised fairly, to be treated with dignity and for business standards to be applied consistently. When organisations are perceived as authentic their employees will trust them even when they disagree with them. But if they are not, even when employers act with the right intentions they will be perceived as having ulterior motives.
2. The reasonableness doctrine
The idea that employers on their own, are responsible for motivating their employees is both unreasonable and absurd. In simple terms, it does not matter how much ambition employers have for their employees, if it is not matched by the ambition that employees have for themselves, it will ultimately lead nowhere. The job of employers is to create working environments that are conducive to employee productivity, progression and wellbeing. It is not the job of employers to make employees feel good about being in places that they do not want to be. Unless expectations are reasonable, the lines of accountability will ne blurred.
3. Motivation is personalisation
With motivation, there is no one-size-fits-all approach. On the contrary, motivation and motivators are highly personalised. Some employees require very little incentive to perform at optimum level, whilst others require much more. In other instances, it is a matter of triggers rather than thresholds, with some employees responding differently to certain motivational stimuli than others. Whatever the case may be, employers need to recognise that employees are as diverse and nuanced as the customers they serve. Understanding distinction and difference will better enable employers to deploy the most effective motivational approaches for teams as well as individuals.
4. Deactivate the demotivators
No matter what you do to motivate your employees, if it is nullified by things that de-motivate them, then your efforts will likely be of nil effect. Motivation, therefore, is about better understanding the accelerators and brakes that influence employee behaviour, wherever they may exist across an organisation. Critically, some of these factors will be within the direct control of an organisation (eg: responding to employee suggestions) whilst others will not (eg: responding to employee suggestions to the satisfaction of every employee). Notwithstanding, having some sort of spatial appreciation of context and spans of influence is crucial. Let’s put it this way, you cannot stop a bird from flying over your head, but you can stop it from making a nest in your hair.
5. Marginal utility
In economics, the law of marginal utility basically highlights the diminishing return that a consumer derives from the consumption of a product or service. If I am thirsty and buy a large bottle of water, I will likely receive maximum satisfaction from the first few mouthfuls and then less and less satisfaction from any further consumption of the product. By the end, there will be little or no satisfaction derived at all. This is very similar to what happens with employee motivation. There is often a ‘sweet spot’ after which time attrition sets it. For employers it is essential that they know what the ‘sweet spot’ is and take active steps to support employees into new roles, before employees themselves recognise that the time to move on has come.
6. Arrested decline
For some of your employees, particularly those that have become disgruntled and are on their way out, there is absolutely no amount of motivation that will improve their performance, while they remain with you. In such situations, the only viable motivator is to enthusiastically support them to find their next role. Understanding what motivates employees is not only of value to those who want to stay, but also to those who want to go. Focusing effort, in this way, does not just increase management efficiency but may also arrest any decline in employee productivity and prevent the spread of negative sentiment to the wider workforce.
7. Disruption by design
Organisations that are predictable become stale and stale organisations produce complacent and demotivated employees. By contrast, fresh challenges stimulate curiosity, promote learning and help employees to remain intellectually alert. It is therefore incumbent on employers to embrace disruption by design as an organising principle. When disruption is introduced into the organisational ‘blood stream’ at regular intervals, it can become the catalyst for creative thought, the sharing of ideas and problem-solving. When organisations are disruptive by design, employees are confronted with new experiences and it is impossible for them to stand still.
Motivation is one of the most powerful tools that employers have at their disposal. An organisation that can motivate its employees does not just create an environment that is rewarding and enriching to work but is also well placed to tap into highly valuable discretionary effort. But here’s the rub: employees come from a wide range of backgrounds. They are extroverts, introverts, optimists, pragmatists and pessimists. It stands to reason therefore, that there can be no universal approach to how they are motivated. The art and science of motivation is customisation, not conformity. For employers, the message is clear: motivation is evidence of organisational maturity and is as much a demonstration of who you are, as what you do.