Helping People to Motivate Themselves and Others

Sections of This Topic Include

Understanding Motivation
Clearing Up Common Myths About Employee Motivation
Basic Principles to Remember About Motivation
Steps You Can Take to Support the Motivation of Others
Various Theories About Motivation

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Understanding Motivation

© Copyright Carter McNamara, MBA, PhD

A major function of leaders is to support the motivation of other individuals and groups. (There is debate as to whether a person can motivate another versus whether a person can only support another to motivate themselves.) There are approaches to motivating people that are destructive, for example, fear and intimidation. While these approaches can seem very effective in promptly motivating people, the approaches are hurtful, and in addition, they usually only motivate for the short-term. There are also approaches that are constructive, for example, effective delegation and coaching. These constructive approaches can be very effective in motivating others and for long periods of time. Different people can have quite different motivators, for example, by more money, more recognition, time off from work, promotions, opportunities for learning, or opportunities for socializing and relationships. Therefore, when attempting to help motivate people, it's important to identify what motivates each of them. Ultimately, though, long-term motivation comes from people motivating themselves.

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Clearing Up Common Myths About Employee Motivation

© Copyright Carter McNamara, MBA, PhD

The topic of motivating employees is extremely important to managers and supervisors. Despite the important of the topic, several myths persist -- especially among new managers and supervisors. Before looking at what management can do to support the motivation of employees, it's important first to clear up these common myths.

1. Myth #1 -- "I can motivate people"

Not really -- they have to motivate themselves. You can't motivate people anymore than you can empower them. Employees have to motivate and empower themselves. However, you can set up an environment where they best motivate and empower themselves. The key is knowing how to set up the environment for each of your employees.

2. Myth #2 -- "Money is a good motivator"

Not really. Certain things like money, a nice office and job security can help people from becoming less motivated, but they usually don't help people to become more motivated. A key goal is to understand the motivations of each of your employees.

3. Myth #3 -- "Fear is a damn good motivator"

Fear is a great motivator -- for a very short time. That's why a lot of yelling from the boss won't seem to "light a spark under employees" for a very long time.

4. Myth #4 -- "I know what motivates me, so I know what motivates my employees"

Not really. Different people are motivated by different things. I may be greatly motivated by earning time away from my job to spend more time my family. You might be motivated much more by recognition of a job well done. People are not motivated by the same things. Again, a key goal is to understand what motivates each of your employees.

5. Myth #5 -- "Increased job satisfaction means increased job performance"

Research shows this isn't necessarily true at all. Increased job satisfaction does not necessarily mean increased job performance. If the goals of the organization are not aligned with the goals of employees, then employees aren't effectively working toward the mission of the organization.

6. Myth #6 -- "I can't comprehend employee motivation -- it's a science"
Nah. Not true. There are some very basic steps you can take that will go a long way toward supporting your employees to motivate themselves toward increased performance in their jobs. (More about these steps is provided later on in this article.)


Basic Principles to Remember About Motivation

© Copyright Carter McNamara, MBA, PhD

1. Motivating employees starts with motivating yourself

It's amazing how, if you hate your job, it seems like everyone else does, too. If you are very stressed out, it seems like everyone else is, too. Enthusiasm is contagious. If you're enthusiastic about your job, it's much easier for others to be, too. Also, if you're doing a good job of taking care of yourself and your own job, you'll have much clearer perspective on how others are doing in theirs.

A great place to start learning about motivation is to start understanding your own motivations. The key to helping to motivate your employees is to understand what motivates them. So what motivates you? Consider, for example, time with family, recognition, a job well done, service, learning, etc. How is your job configured to support your own motivations? What can you do to better motivate yourself?

2. Always work to align goals of the organization with goals of employees

As mentioned above, employees can be all fired up about their work and be working very hard. However, if the results of their work don't contribute to the goals of the organization, then the organization is not any better off than if the employees were sitting on their hands -- maybe worse off! Therefore, it's critical that managers and supervisors know what they want from their employees. These preferences should be worded in terms of goals for the organization. Identifying the goals for the organization is usually done during strategic planning. Whatever steps you take to support the motivation of your employees (various steps are suggested below), ensure that employees have strong input to identifying their goals and that these goals are aligned with goals of the organization. (Goals should be worded to be "SMARTER". More about this later on below.)

3. Key to supporting the motivation of your employees is understanding what motivates each of them

Each person is motivated by different things. Whatever steps you take to support the motivation of your employees, they should first include finding out what it is that really motivates each of your employees. You can find this out by asking them, listening to them and observing them. (More about this later on below.)

4. Recognize that supporting employee motivation is a process, not a task

Organizations change all the time, as do people. Indeed, it is an ongoing process to sustain an environment where each employee can strongly motivate themselves. If you look at sustaining employee motivation as an ongoing process, then you'll be much more fulfilled and motivated yourself.

5. Support employee motivation by using organizational systems (for example, policies and procedures) -- don't just count on good intentions

Don't just count on cultivating strong interpersonal relationships with employees to help motivate them. The nature of these relationships can change greatly, for example, during times of stress. Instead, use reliable and comprehensive systems in the workplace to help motivate employees. For example, establish compensation systems, employee performance systems, organizational policies and procedures, etc., to support employee motivation. Also, establishing various systems and structures helps ensure clear understanding and equitable treatment of employees.


Steps You Can Take to Support the Motivation of Others

© Copyright Carter McNamara, MBA, PhD

The following specific steps can help you go a long way toward supporting your employees to motivate themselves in your organization.

1. Do more than read this article -- apply what you're reading here

This maxim is true when reading any management publication.

2. Briefly write down the motivational factors that sustain you and what you can do to sustain them

This little bit of "motivation planning" can give you strong perspective on how to think about supporting the motivations of your employees.

3. Make of list of three to five things that motivate each of your employees

Read the checklist of possible motivators. Fill out the list yourself for each of your employees and then have each of your employees fill out the list for themselves. Compare your answers to theirs. Recognize the differences between your impression of what you think is important to them and what they think is important to them. Then meet with each of your employees to discuss what they think are the most important motivational factors to them. Lastly, take some time alone to write down how you will modify your approaches with each employee to ensure their motivational factors are being met. (NOTE: This may seem like a "soft, touchy-feely exercise" to you. If it does, then talk to a peer or your boss about it. Much of what's important in management is based very much on "soft, touchy-feely exercises". Learn to become more comfortable with them. The place to start is to recognize their importance.)

4. Work with each employee to ensure their motivational factors are taken into consideration in your reward systems

For example, their jobs might be redesigned to be more fulfilling. You might find more means to provide recognition, if that is important to them. You might develop a personnel policy that rewards employees with more family time, etc.

5. Have one-on-one meetings with each employee

Employees are motivated more by your care and concern for them than by your attention to them. Get to know your employees, their families, their favorite foods, names of their children, etc. This can sound manipulative -- and it will be if not done sincerely. However, even if you sincerely want to get to know each of your employees, it may not happen unless you intentionally set aside time to be with each of them.

6. Cultivate strong skills in delegation

Delegation includes conveying responsibility and authority to your employees so they can carry out certain tasks. However, you leave it up to your employees to decide how they will carry out the tasks. Skills in delegation can free up a great deal of time for managers and supervisors. It also allows employees to take a stronger role in their jobs, which usually means more fulfillment and motivation in their jobs, as well.

7. Reward it when you see it

A critical lesson for new managers and supervisors is to learn to focus on employee behaviors, not on employee personalities. Performance in the workplace should be based on behaviors toward goals, not on popularity of employees. You can get in a great deal of trouble (legally, morally and interpersonally) for focusing only on how you feel about your employees rather than on what you're seeing with your eyeballs.

8. Reward it soon after you see it

This helps to reinforce the notion that you highly prefer the behaviors that you're currently seeing from your employees. Often, the shorter the time between an employee's action and your reward for the action, the clearer it is to the employee that you highly prefer that action.

9. Implement at least the basic principles of performance management

Good performance management includes identifying goals, measures to indicate if the goals are being met or not, ongoing attention and feedback about measures toward the goals, and corrective actions to redirect activities back toward achieving the goals when necessary. Performance management can focus on organizations, groups, processes in the organization and employees.

10. Establish goals that are SMARTER

SMARTER goals are: specific, measurable, acceptable, realistic, timely, extending of capabilities, and rewarding to those involved.

11. Clearly convey how employee results contribute to organizational results.

Employees often feel strong fulfillment from realizing that they're actually making a difference. This realization often requires clear communication about organizational goals, employee progress toward those goals and celebration when the goals are met.

12. Celebrate achievements

This critical step is often forgotten. New managers and supervisors are often focused on a getting "a lot done". This usually means identifying and solving problems. Experienced managers come to understand that acknowledging and celebrating a solution to a problem can be every bit as important as the solution itself. Without ongoing acknowledgement of success, employees become frustrated, skeptical and even cynical about efforts in the organization.

13. Let employees hear from their customers (internal or external)

Let employees hear customers proclaim the benefits of the efforts of the employee . For example, if the employee is working to keep internal computer systems running for other employees (internal customers) in the organization, then have other employees express their gratitude to the employee. If an employee is providing a product or service to external customers, then bring in a customer to express their appreciation to the employee.

14. Admit to yourself (and to an appropriate someone else) if you don't like an employee --

Managers and supervisors are people. It's not unusual to just not like someone who works for you. That someone could, for example, look like an uncle you don't like. In this case, admit to yourself that you don't like the employee. Then talk to someone else who is appropriate to hear about your distaste for the employee, for example, a peer, your boss, your spouse, etc. Indicate to the appropriate person that you want to explore what it is that you don't like about the employee and would like to come to a clearer perception of how you can accomplish a positive working relationship with the employee. It often helps a great deal just to talk out loud about how you feel and get someone else's opinion about the situation. As noted above, if you continue to focus on what you see about employee performance, you'll go a long way toward ensuring that your treatment of employees remains fair and equitable.

Various Theories About Motivation

More on Maslow
Big Dog on Motivating
Motivation: Hierarchy of Needs Theory
Behavioral Theories of Motivation
What Not to do When Motivating People
How Not to Motivate Your Best And Brightest
Motivate Your People With Your Drawerful of $100 Bills


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