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Managing to Motivate

Leading Better Motivation

Studies show that in roughly 85% of organizations, employee motivation declines sharply after people have spent six months with their managers. Well, is a motivation decline really that big of a deal? Harvard Business Review says, actually: "other than talent, motivation is the key driver of job performance, for it determines the level of effort and persistence employees will exert" (Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic and Lewis Gerrard).

No motivation


How, then, do managers go about getting the most out of their employees?


1) Align Goals and Motivation to the Task Type

OAIH6Z0Certain motivation techniques make more sense for certain tasks. When it comes to more creative or complex projects, don't discount the value of intrinsic motivation -- that sense of purpose connected to the work we're doing, or the pride in a job well done or solving a problem successfully. For example, a simple "do your best" can get you a lot farther with someone designing a marketing banner than the promise of extra cash if they meet a tight deadline.



3931In fact, in some cases, relying on extrinsic motivation can actually backfire, and you'll wind up with an employee or entire team drastically under-performing. But there are times when extrinsic motivation is the best way to get the job done. If you've got a competitive team, for example, or if the outcomes of a task or project can be very concretely measured and defined, you might be better off setting stretch goals and bonuses to boost performance (Yu-Qian Zhu, Donald G. Gardner, Houn-Gee Chen).



2) Tell Employees How They're Doing in an Intentional, Thoughtful, and Motivating Way

Feedback can have an enormous impact on how well we do what we do, not to mention how much we want to get even better -- or not. Critical, constructive feedback is a tricky balancing act. Too harsh and the employee's feelings are hurt and they have less desire to do their job well. On the flip-side, too much positive feedback can inflated an employee's belief in their own skills, and they become less likely to grow or get better (Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic and Lewis Gerrard). So how can leaders find that "just right" Goldilocks happy medium?


We're not going to pull your leg and tell you it's a piece of cake; in fact, it's different for every employee. It's up to leaders to get to know their employees, and identify the more sensitive ones who might need a few more positive affirmations, as well as the more confident ones who want to know what else they can be doing, and how they can improve. Granted, all employees need some of each, but it's up to the manager to find that balance that fosters the employee's growth, while simultaneously building up their sense of self-efficacy.


"Yeah, But I Shouldn't Have To"

We can hear you skeptics out there: "This is work. We're all here to do a job. I shouldn't have to treat my employees or colleagues with kid gloves so they feel 'motivated' to do things they signed on for and are getting paid for."


158Sure, you can choose to forgo the effort it takes to motivate and inspire employees. They will likely continue to perform their assigned duties with the same rigor and level of enthusiasm that they've always demonstrated. And if you're okay with that, then you probably don't have to change a thing. But. If you want the very best from people--if you want a vibrant, engaged workforce, it's not a bad idea to go that extra mile and be more intentional in how you position tasks and goals, and a little more thoughtful when you provide positive and negative feedback.


We're pretty sure it'll pay off.

Sinikka headshot 2017

About the Author

Sinikka Waugh

Sinikka Waugh is a recognized leader in understanding people and in adapting tools, techniques, and processes to meet the demands of the situation at hand. Since 2006, Sinikka has provided compassionate leadership in transformation initiatives. When she isn’t in front of a class, she enjoys putting her background in English and French Literature to work, by writing blogs about the subjects she teaches every day.

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