The Not So Shocking Truth: 3 things to stop doing that undermine Optimal Motivation

bigstock-Got-motivation-question--whit-31863176“Shocking! This is shocking.” The manager was responding to a slide on the screen that declared: As a manager you cannot motivate anyone.

“Shocking,” he exclaimed again before I could put up the second part of the slide. I asked the obvious question, “Why is this so shocking?” His reply: “My whole career I have been told my job was to motivate my people, now you tell me I can’t. No wonder I’ve been so frustrated.”

I revealed the second part of the slide: What managers can do is create an environment where people are more likely to experience optimal motivation at work.

Now this may not seem so shocking if you accept that motivation is truly an inside-out job–only an individual can determine how they are motivated. And it may be obvious that a manager’s role is to create a workplace where people can experience positive motivation. But the manager’s initial shock led to an exploration of the latest science of motivation that you might also find useful.

Over the years it has become evident that most managers do not understand how to create that motivating environment. Throwing their arms up in despair, they assumed motivating people depended on things mostly outside their managerial control such as good wages, promotions, and job security. Managers defaulted to HR to come up with better compensation schemes, more creative reward and recognition systems, and elite high potential programs.

But now we know better. If you hope to motivate–or create that motivational environment–for your staff through raises, bonuses, annual awards, or promotions, you are pinning your hopes on false promises. I can hear HR managers breathing a collective sigh of relief at the same time as they are thinking: But what do managers do differently?

Here are three things to stop doing that undermine optimal motivation and how to use the new science of motivation to make a positive difference:

  1. Stop depending on your authority and hierarchical power and find ways to give your people a greater sense of autonomy. Start giving people a sense of choice by helping them generate alternative actions and solutions, discussing implications for various approaches to problems, and providing freedom within boundaries whenever possible.
  2. Stop thinking business isn’t personal. Turn the old axiom around: If it is business, it must be personal. Learn how to have effective challenging conversations, take note of personal issues that may be influencing a person’s performance on any given day, and be willing to share personal stories that are relevant to work and goals.
  3. Stop focusing on what was achieved today and ask instead: What did people learn today? One of the greatest joys of being a manager is also being a great teacher. If your people go home each day having learned one new thing, they will not be the only ones feeling rewarded that day–you will also find a greater sense of accomplishment and purpose in your work.

The good news is that through the latest science of motivation, we have a good, solid, research-based understanding of what motivates people in the workplace. The other good news is that managers can use that understanding to help their people enjoy a higher quality motivational work experience. And that’s the maybe not-so-shocking truth about motivation.

About the author:

Susan Fowler is one of the principal authors—together  with David Facer and Drea Zigarmi—of The Ken Blanchard Companies’ new Optimal Motivation process and workshop.  Their posts appear on the first and third Monday of each month.

8 thoughts on “The Not So Shocking Truth: 3 things to stop doing that undermine Optimal Motivation

  1. I agree. We suggest money is a satisfier, but not a motivator.
    Dan Pink has some great support of this in his book Drive.

  2. Worthwhile article! When you spend more time at work than home than work does become personal. I call my colleagues my, “GCU Family” as we all work together to accomplish the same purpose and serve others. My manager takes a break from quotas and strategy to share personal values as she tells stories from volunteering in the community and encourages the same. It is this lead by example attitude that leaves me motivated at the end of the day to become a better person every day.

  3. Thanks for these reminders Susan. Still some managers remain stuck. Why? I think because even of they embrace the concept they lack the communication skills and personal depth to take action

    And NB: Dan Pink’s theory works for people earning discretionary income but not for the ever increasing numbers of people who are living on “barely making ends meet” incomes. For them it IS all about the money

    Charley Matera
    “…using Conversation by Design to get Real Results…”

  4. Susan – Amen and Amen. Bosses can’t force or make employees feel motivated. Employees DECIDE to show more or different behavior. Even if a boss offers a big cash bonus or a menacing threat, the employee might decide to refuse to do what s/he is told.

    In creating a motivating environment, I encourage bosses to first address the fundamentals of managing performance. From the employee’s perspective, consider how motivating the following are if implemented excellently versus how demotivating if implemented poorly:
    1. Clear, consistent expectations with great personal meaning versus confusing or changing expectations that mean little or nothing
    2. Being selected (hired, promoted, assigned) to a job, task or team that is a great fit with knowledge, skills and interests versus a lousy fit resulting in ongoing struggle
    3. Being provided what is needed to succeed (for example, facilities, tools, technology, key information, personal development) versus regularly lacking the basics or what is necessary to perform at the next level
    4. An engaged boss who stays on top of your work situation, performance, contributions and encountered obstacles versus an absent or removed boss
    5. A boss who responds quickly and helpfully to provide feedback, coaching, reinforcement (recognition, appreciation and rewards), and – as needed – corrective action
    Too often, bosses don’t’ appreciate how critical and powerful these fundamentals are. They assume doing them “good enough to get by” is their job. If they are implemented marginally, expect marginal employee motivation and performance.

    For an optimally motivating workplace, bosses need bosses and peers who advocate, model, monitor, reinforce and hold others accountable to maximize these and other aspects of performance management. The result is achieving and sustaining performance excellence and commitment to job and organization.

  5. Pingback: One of the Problems With Big Companies is Their Middle Management | Delusions of Adequacy

  6. First of all I would like to say excellent blog! I had a quick question that I’d like to ask if you don’t mind. I was interested to know how you center yourself and clear your thoughts prior to writing. I’ve had a difficult time clearing my mind in getting my ideas out there. I truly do enjoy writing however it just seems like the first 10 to 15 minutes are usually wasted simply just trying to figure out how to begin. Any ideas or hints? Appreciate it!|

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