The great motivation debate among business leaders has been whether motivation is a trait we are born with or a skill that can be developed. Contemporary research has answered that question; motivation is a skill that can be nurtured and developed in oneself and others. This important finding means that employees at all levels have the capability to motivate themselves to meet the complex demands of their jobs in today’s knowledge economy.
But leaders still play a vital role. The next advance needed in today’s organizations is to develop motivation into a strategic leadership capacity. When leaders treat employee motivation as a strategic issue, they create a distinctive advantage that is not easily matched by competitors. This strategic approach results in higher quality individual performance on everyday goals and projects, more “out of the box” thinking, faster innovation, greater acceptance of change, and greater “idea velocity.” Sustaining high quality motivation as a strategic capability also creates a magnet for talent.
Where to start?
The path to competitive advantage is paved with autonomy, relatedness, and competence. Focus on honoring employees’ legitimate needs for a sense of freedom in their work, their natural desire for warm relationships that are free of manipulation, and the natural striving for ongoing competence and growth.
One powerful place to start is with what you write and say to employees. Here are three simple upgrades that you can make to your communication style to build more autonomy, relatedness, and competence in your interactions:
- Offer as many options as possible when making requests for action, and make them true options. Employees need to feel a sense of freedom and control over their work. Try to avoid false options that really pressure them toward the single outcome you think is best.
- Highlight the extraordinary learning that everyone is doing, particularly when times are tough. People are less afraid of difficult challenges when they realize they are successfully learning their way through them.
- Balance focus on final results with focus on team, community, and collective effort. Be sure not to bang the table for results without expressing your gratitude for individual and team effort along the way.
Distinctive motivational capacity across the entire organization, in all functional areas, and among every level of executive, can be built by more carefully cultivating the work environment. Optimal motivation is fostered when you upgrade the quality of the language used in everyday meetings, in email, and even in how senior leaders speak to the financial markets. Such improvements tell employees what matters most—and whether employee well-being is really a central management focus.
The more you show that you genuinely care about your people as human beings, and are thankful for all they strive to achieve every day, the more likely you are to set your organization apart from the rest.
About the author:
The Motivation Guy (also known as Dr. David Facer) is one of the principal authors—together with Susan Fowler and Drea Zigarmi—of The Ken Blanchard Companies’ new Optimal Motivation process and workshop.