Have you ever heard a manager ask, “How can I motivate my people?” It’s a familiar lament, and the sentiment behind it is easy to understand. After all, managers need to get the work done, and if “their people” aren’t motivated to do it, managers are up a creek – right? Maybe so, but the answer to the question is not the answer to the problem. In fact, the question reveals a basic misunderstanding of human nature in the workplace – on at least three levels.
People Have Brainpower – Use It
First, what managers typically mean when they ask that question is, “How can I get the people who work for me to do what I want them to do in the way I want them to do it?” One reason that kind of mentality can backfire is because it conveys the impression that managers have all the answers, and the job of employees is to do what they’re told. If there’s one clear lesson that came out of the quality movement, it’s that every body in the workplace also comes equipped with a brain. Any organization that fails to take full advantage of everyone’s heads and hearts as well as their hands is diminishing the potential of its employees to help the organization excel.
People Motivate From Within – Build on It
Second, people cannot be motivated. That’s becausemotivation is intrinsic. You can give employees extrinsic incentives, but if those incentives don’t resonate with what people are already motivated by, they will have little effect. That’s why managers have to tune in and respond to the uniquely motivating spark that exists within each person in order to produce optimal performance.
People Deserve Respect – Give It
Third, if you’re a manager, you need to understand that unless you’ve taken in slaves, or God has taken you in as a partner, employees are not “your people.” They are independent, competent adults who expect respect, and they don’t respond well when they’re treated like children or chattel.
People Want Success – Count on It
Once managers come to terms with those basic ideas, then they can ask the more relevant and appropriate question: “How can I get the best that people are willing and able to contribute to the success of this organization?” Here are some keys to achieving that goal:
- Make sure that a person’s aptitude matches the requirements of the job. In other words, don’t try to put a square peg in a round hole.
- Get clear alignment on responsibilities, goals and expectations.
- Offer meaningful rationale for decisions and actions that answers the ever-present question, “What’s in it for me?”
- Provide well-defined, functional processes and accessible resources that people need to do the work they are expected to do.
- Establish a “guidance system” with relevant, understandable metrics and a visible means of communicating about them.
- Use “constructive accountability” when things go wrong, and always approach people as the source of the solution rather than the cause of the problem.
While employees are not “your people,” most of them want the same thing the company does – success. Organizations that treat employees like partners rather than property in a common effort to succeed are more likely to get there.
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