Motivation – 3 observations

Two case scenarios. Yesterday, I heard that a close friend was about to hand in his notice after over 10 years in a lab of a biotech company. Along with 2 colleagues, they had met all their targets and sacrificed to help the Israeli company through the recession. They were left to doubt is they were worthy members of staff, and were encouraged to go home every day …late. In the space of 8 weeks, the firm was losing 20 years of experience in a core department.

With some irony not far from there, a daughter company of a multinational is plodding along. In the words of one senior manager, they were about to spend the next set of salary negotiations beaming at their staff, thanking them for their continuing achievements and giving them a pay rise that barely matched inflation. Bonuses along with initiative are governed by an anonymous head office overseas .

The local board cares, but guess what the staff is thinking? There comes a time, when all the smiles and camaraderie in the world just does not do it.

Two questions link the stories:

  1. Is anybody with true authority prepared to take responsibility for the HR consequences of their actions?
  2. If not, they must realise that the remaining employees will be less than inspired, which will have a knock on effect in performance. Is there a back up plan to motivate them?

I recently read 3 articles on this very theme.

“Motivation is now a big issue to ensure that the staff capitalise on opportunities as the economy limps out of recession,” writes Jonatan Moules in the Financial Times. He recognises that the pay issues can be overcome, when the right internal company environment is created.

The Mercer Engagement Scale, which measures what motivates employees across a range of companies, ranks bonuses and pay rises in eighth and ninth places, a long way behind having an interesting job, being recognised for contributions made, and having good relationships with colleagues.

“A surprising thing about what motivates us” is a new book by Daniel Pink. Using examples from Google and other successful enterprises, the author goes for the jugular.

The dominant view is that “in the end, human beings aren’t much different from horses: the way to get us moving in the right direction is by dangling a crunchier carrot or wielding a sharper stick”. Pink draws attention to the wealth of research that suggests that, as far as human motivation is concerned, something far more interesting and potentially more powerful takes place

So again, no overt need for financial reward. Just let the worker get on with a purposeful task in their own way.

Dr Robert Brooks has been quoted before on this blog. His latest writing on motivation happens to quote Daniel Pink. Brooks cites the work of Deci and Ryan.

This is a really big thing in management. When people aren’t producing, companies typically resort to rewards or punishment. What they haven’t done is the hard work of diagnosing what the problem is. You’re trying to run over the problem with a carrot or a stick.

As Brooks notes, the question remains what are the conditions or techniques to create a motivational environment. I suggest that he sends he thoughts directly to a large number of CEOs around the world.

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