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Real Motivation

November 27, 2009

Managing is basically a process of getting results through people. This process includes a combination of defining responsibilities, organizing, establishing goals, and generally making sure that people know what they’re supposed to do, have the means to do it, and are “motivated” to get it done.

When the subject of motivation is discussed, it is most often looked at from the perspective of how to get people motivated. Let’s change this perspective and make sure that we are not creating situations that are de-motivating or that prevent a motivated individual from making a contribution.

Think about it. The typical human being loses sleep at night over problems and challenges just like the entrepreneur. Just like his boss, the typical human being worries mostly about the things they own. The only difference is that people who aren’t bosses worry about the things they own instead of what the boss owns They worry about their job of course, but also about the mortgage, the leaky roof, their hobby, the kids etc.

It’s easy to look at other people and wonder why they don’t care, but that’s not really the proper question. They do care about many things. What really worries the manager is why they don’t care about the things the manager wants them to care about.

Cynics might, at this point, be thinking this is naive. That most people don’t care and can’t be motivated because they don’t want to deal with the problems. But how can the cynics answer the facts that show that people do want to get involved.

Listen to the chattering over the CB channels. Anonymous strangers are helping anonymous strangers all the time. Why? What motivates Red Cross volunteers and others who get involved in youth and church organizations? Teamwork and cooperation seem ingrained in our race through cultural and perhaps biological evolution.

Now, consider the so-called “unmotivated” employee. He’s not insubordinate but his supervisor has had difficulty with him for years. He is always on time for work but never seems to live up to his potential. He never commits an offense that would warrant a dismissal but his productivity is low and he has to be constantly prodded to keep his work area clean.

“I’ve tried everything,” the supervisor says, “I just can’t get him motivated to get off his butt.” A company full of these guys and you would go broke.

Sound familiar? You bet! Let’s set aside our frustration for a minute and try a thought experiment. If we could somehow follow the “unmotivated” employee around for a typical day, we might discover some interesting facts: They are probably a strict parent, believing in firm discipline. They may be a perfectionist in the workshop or kitchen, which, by the way, is neat and well organized. They work as an effective leader in a volunteer capacity in a church or youth organization. They may operate a small business on the side to help make ends meet.

What you discover about this “laggard’s” life away from the job is surprising. The key thing here is that most every human being does get involved and takes ownership of some problems. They appear motivated in some situations but not in others. Why?

Interest. Importance. Justification. Ability.

These are the key words. Where we find that people seem to be motivated, we will almost always find these four factors operating in the situation. Where people don’t seem motivated, it’s most likely that one or more of these essential elements is missing or has been taken away.

People are motivated to pay attention to interesting things and to get important things done – as long as they see a reason(justification) for doing so and have the ability or power to do so.

It’s from this point of view that the manager should look at this thing called “motivation”. If it’s missing it doesn’t need to be instilled. People are naturally motivated. Instead, in a given situation, something is taking away or standing in the way of the exercise of man’s inherently motivated nature.

Either the job or the responsibility is uninteresting, isn’t seen as important, there’s little perceived justification for doing it, or the employee doesn’t have the necessary power, authority, or skill. The fundamental motivation exists, but it has been rendered latent by and in the specific circumstances.

The question for the manager wanting to keep people motivated, or encourage the motivation of new people is “How do I make sure that the four elements are present in every job?” Because it’s your business, make sure you find the answer.

Joe Driscoll is a management consultant whose column appears regularly in the Monday Herald.

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