Motivation – beyond carrots, sticks, X, Y and rewards

When people are financially invested, they want a return. When people are emotionally invested, they want to contribute.” – Simon Sinek

The days of just telling people what to do are long gone. The leader’s job is not only to get things done with his team but to get things done willingly and enthusiastically. Whether you lead 2 people, a small team or an entire organisation, you are evaluated by the work others make as much as by what you do yourself.

Performance = (Ability + Knowledge) x Motivation

The quality of others’ contribution is dependent on their motivation: the higher the motivation, the better the performance. So far, all is clear and there is a lot of literature and theory on this team motivation theme. What’s less clear is how you can actually influence and achieve team motivation.

If you Google team motivation or employee motivation, you will come over Maslow’s pyramid of needs, Herzberg’s X and Y theory, Vroom’s expectations theory and carrot-and-stick tactics. I found partially helpful ideas in all of them, but I will not explain these theories here as this is not a theoretical blog and there are other resources that can help with them.

Carrots and sticks may work well… with donkeys

Old theories on employee motivation were all about manipulating people into doing the things management wanted them to do by providing a duo: tempting incentives and threat of punishment. This may work well with donkeys or horses, but every cat or dog owner knows that not even these intelligent pets can be motivated only with these. Of course fear of punishment works, of course incentives are a goal, but think about it for a minute. Are perks and threatening company rules enough for you to wake up full of energy and want to move mountains daily? As an entrepreneur are you pushed forward only by the promise of a new car or by the threat that you may go bankrupt? Of course, carrots and sticks have their amazing influence, but they are not all there is to motivation. The days of management by fear are long gone.

I’m slowly becoming a convert to the principle that you can’t motivate people to do things, you can only demotivate them. The primary job of the manager is not to empower but to remove obstacles.” – Scott Adams

Of course, ever since Herzberg, Maslow and other management theorists have summed up management as the process of minimising the factors that create team dissatisfaction and maximising the factors that create positive motivation. According to all these theories, the motivational climate of an organisation is the sum of all the pluses and minuses.

Pluses that should be emphasized may mean financial incentives, career paths, work itself, opportunities of personal growth, recognition of achievement, responsibility, taking ownership, advancement. Minuses that should be minimized may mean time-consuming useless bureaucracy, unfair salary or salary not according to employee expectations, status, security, personal life-professional life balance, working conditions, interpersonal conditions, supervisions etc.

Of course, I partially agree with these theories and I believe that minimising demotivational factors is key and it’s even more important to take care of personal motivational factors. However, we’ve all seen entrepreneurs moved forward against all odds and working conditions. We’ve all seen employees who were motivated to thrive even though there was no promise of a carrot and the minuses were present all the way. What moves these people forward? What is their motivation?

We can learn a lot about team motivation from… marketing

After all, the first client you should take care of is your employee. He is the one that interacts with your clients, directly or indirectly, and no demotivated team can deliver great results and get you to customer happiness. Marketers have managed to convince us that purchase decisions are emotional. Why would motivation at work then be rational?

This is where I personally have found the key to team motivation. The future no longer belongs to factories or huge corporations, the future is more and more obviously about entrepreneurship and freelancers, about people being good at their own craft, people acting independently and producing their own added value. If you manage to understand this, you understand that ultimately each of your team members sees himself of herself more and more as a business. Each employee has his own professional purpose, mission and value that he can add to your business. He does this as a choice and he chooses to work for you because your organisation helps him meet his purpose, learn how to add more value or in some other way gets him closer to his mission. That’s also what bestselling authors like Daniel H. Pink or Simon Sinek are also saying about team motivation, have you been or should you be curious to read “Drive” or “Start with Why”.

Nowadays, a leader’s job is to inspire people to act not because they have to but because they want to. Because the company’s or team’s objectives are the same as the individual’s personal objectives.

How can you use this to motivate your team?

  • Match people with positions –  People who are not in positions suited for them will always be difficult to motivate and will never produce the quality of work and productivity you want. When hiring or reorganising a team, search for passion in your employees. The best person for a job is that person that is insanely passionate about solving that particular problema and about mastering that particular craft. Passion is the first step and a mandatory one towards excellence. It gives a person the drive to do everything in one’s power to achieve performance.
  • Ownership – Each individual in your team or organisation is motivated by something different. Not all are leaders, not all want to take responsibility. However, to some extent, they all want ownership. They need to feel that there is an area where they can decide. They may not want responsibility or decision-making, but they all want to be the ones who decide how to do things. Even junior staff decides on their own whether they want to follow your lead and learn from you or not. Actually, it’s plain stupid to think that you can give ownership. People have ownership, they have this choice, it’s only important for you to realise this.
  • Have a clear vision and strategy – People need to know where you want to go and what you expect from them. They need to know how they can contribute to your vision. And only then can they choose if they will follow you. If you’re going nowhere, any road may lead there and they will not know how to align the value they can add to your business. They may perform well, but not know what to deliver to you so that if can help you. There is another benefit of having communicated your vision. Even dull work and routine tasks can be made attractive if their contribution in the whole picture is communicated. Vision inspires action and no team motivation will ever substitute vision and strategy. Your team may be as motivated as possible, but if they don’t know where they are going, they will not be able to get there.
  • Develop, appraise, empower – If a team member is passionate about his job and he has decided to follow you and the vision is clear, all you need to do now is provide feedback and help this team member develop his skill. Appraise periodically and, when results exceed expectations, empower that team member to make his own decisions. Empowerement sparks creativity. Appreciate performance, celebrate success and give opportunities to grow.

If you were looking for a magic recipe to motivate your team, I am sorry I’m gonna have to disappoint you. Motivation is nothing if not multifaceted and there are no quick fixes and shortcuts that can help you.




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