Motivate and Engage! But How?

During the 20th Century many changes happened in the field of employee motivation. At the beginning of the century Henri Fayol approached the topic of motivation with his employees with the question: “Do you think about yourself as a high-value employee?”, which was followed by a quite manipulative conversation where the goal was to convince the employee that he has to put in more effort in order to provide enough value for the company. After these first stages in the development of the concept of employee motivation, an extensive usage of the ‘carrot and stick’ principle was what followed. Nowadays motivation is an art, not merely a tool, thanks to people like Daniel Pink and his contribution to the development of the motivation theory.

We have come quite a long way in the development of our understanding of motivation, if we take into account that Douglas McGregor had a hard time persuading managers in the 60’s that the employees are engaged and take responsibility for their work, and not just slacking off as most managers thought.
Revolutionizing the motivation paradigm will not be an easy run, but more and more leaders feel – thanks to the economic crises – they need new solutions. Money cannot solve everything! The leaders who can motivate and engage their own teams are as valuable for the company as the ones who know the competencies of their team members.

Identifying employee’s motivators looks more complex then identifying abilities and skills. On one hand, the picture is distorted by the “new broom sweeps clean” effect, which means that every new colleague shows their best sides at first; on the other hand people do not speak much about their sources of motivation. Finally if we ask for their motivators, they will simply hold everything really important. Who would dare to state to the boss that money, challenges or the team is not important for them?

Leaders should know that high motivation should not produce average performance – for that there is the salary – real motivation should result in above average performance and efforts. Good leaders are able to distinguish between their team members. Good leaders do not believe that if something drives them, it will be a driver for everyone. On the basis of these rules, leaders should keep an eye on the fact that motivators could be very different things for different people

The easiest way to generate motivation is when for the leader himself to be the overcharged momentum, energy and vision. This type of leader is ambitious, but gives achievable tasks, is great in story-telling, has a clear vision and gives space to his employees to execute tasks their own way. The subordinates are empowered to find their own sources of motivation and the leader supports them and lets them evolve.

It is crystal clear that not every manager has the abilities to follow the leader-style approach. The most important first step for them would be to get to know the motivators of their team. This can also be a challenging task, as people rarely share exactly what motivates them. On the other hand, our perceptions are influenced by our own personalities and motivational structure, so managers tend to make less-than-perfect decisions and actions when it comes to motivating their employees.

Some of the typical faulty perceptions they may have are:

  • My subordinates get their salary to perform outstandingly
  • What drives me, drives others as well
  • People have one motivational factor
  • I can motivate everyone to the same degree
  • Everyone likes to do what they seem to be good at

Fortunately there is a way to go about this – using psychometric tools which can identify individual drivers of each employee is the most objective and precise way to do it. After they get acquainted with the elements that motivate their employees, they can offer tasks and roles in accordance to their individual drivers, appropriate development opportunities and rewards for great performance which will be perceived as motivating and rewarding by the employees.

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