Winners vs. Participants – Employee Motivation

Some time ago I met the director of player development in one of the NHL clubs. He asked if we could measure motivation and related how difficult it is to maintain stable performance and drive of players despite their high rewards. At that moment I saw a great similarity with the current managerial environment.

I recalled how I used to believe that I could motivate people with money – salary increases or various benefits. It only worked as short-term stimulation until the moment when people adapted to the higher rewards and began to see it as a “natural” thing. During the recession very few people learned how to adapt to the opposite.

Motivation is related to the overall meaning of our work – any person in our team who looks “unmotivated” is motivated toward doing something much more meaningful for him or her, than manager wants.

After a while I realized that motivation is not an “individual functional unit” that is to be thought about in absolutes – whether somebody is or is not motivated. Motivation is related to the overall meaning of our work – something either is or is not meaningful. If it is not, we automatically lower our financial and other requirements which are very often compensations for the fact that we “do not believe in what we do”. Volunteers who sacrifice their comfort and often risk their own lives without financial compensation are a prime example.

I am convinced that there is not a single person that lives and works without motivation. Any person in our team who looks “unmotivated” is motivated toward doing something much more meaningful for him or her, than manager wants. People’s motives are very diverse and very often different than what they outwardly present. Moreover, the motivation is changing with time.

The question remains: whether and what can we do to maintain motivation of the people in our team?

I would like to share a few conclusions which resulted from a Balance Management analysis of employee attitude data gathered in 2008-2011. The sample was over 50 thousand employees in Europe. Although motivation is a very individual issue for each of us, we have identified the principles on which the strategy for increasing motivation may be based. These principles manifested a high correlation for both sexes – men and women.

If you as manager abide by all the principles below, your employees’ performance may double and they will be more open to accepting company rules. They will also have a heightened sensitivity to anything or anyone disturbing their work performance (inefficient processes, “lazy” coworkers or “bad” suppliers). Every one in the team will become a “guard” to himself/herself and others and naturally protect performance and goal achievement.

The principles are interconnected. In case you want your employees to be motivated, you must adhere to all of them. The principles are arranged according to their significance – responsibility, job description, career development and money – notice that money is the fourth and last priority.

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  • Responsibility – the employee must know which activities and goals he or she is personally responsible for. Define which decisions he/she can make on his/her own. Respect these competences and do not interfere in it.
  • Job content – the employee must exactly know what to do and how his/her activities are related to achieving the defined goals. Define what can or cannot be done to that end and provide to the employee the best working conditions.
  • Career development – the employee must know about the opportunities for further career growth and the criteria for reaching it. It does not always have to be promotion; increasing expertise or participate to a special project could have the same effect.
  • Reward – financial compensation that takes into consideration all three previous principles. Be aware that salary, which is subjectively seen as too high, can demotivate employees as much as a salary which he/she sees as insufficient.

Our analysis also indicates that employees increasingly pursue their own individual interest at the expense of the company’s or other colleagues’ interests. The same happened to us – managers – when we focus our attention exclusively on achieving the figures and goals. People in our team may end up feeling like “money-making machines”, which hardly contribute to their motivation. Focus on keeping all four described principles and address your employees with respect and genuine human interest. Your people will not only fulfill set goals with enthusiasm but also respect you in return.

Employees increasingly pursue their own individual interest at the expense of the company’s or other colleagues’ interests.

And last but not the least – by comparing employees’ profiles where above principles are respected we found many distinctive similarities with profiles of top athletes. Are you ready to lead a team of “winners” or are you satisfied with the team of “participants”?

Dr. Filip Brodan
Managing Director
Engage Hill

www.balancemanagement.com