Power Plays – 3 motivators that really do work

carrotGraham was a salesman of specialty products with a proven record of success. His many, many years of experience had yielded a high degree of confidence in himself and in the products he sold and an advanced level of competence in his craft as a personable, trust-inspiring, responsible salesman.

The retail company for whom he worked was one of the many big box stores that now dominate the marketplace in North America. The management structure of the one he worked for was a little murky. According to the organizational chart, his supervisor was the sales manager of the entire store. Then, while he was there, that position was eliminated and his new supervisor became an assistant manager who was over that area of the store. But each department had a manager whose job it was to maintain control over the inventory, to solve whatever customer service or contractual problems might arise, and to complete the large volume of reports mandated by the suits at the corporate office.

At some point in the chronology, those suits reorganized the management structure again and added another responsibility to department managers, that of managing the sales staff.

You can probably see a problem coming. Managers whose job it has been to handle objects – inventory, reports, and contracts – are not necessarily capable of managing people. In fact, most often they are ill-equipped because people are not paper. Not even close.

Graham walked into his department one morning to discover a new manager had been installed. She was a young girl Graham had met at a training seminar a few weeks before. Graham adhered to the company’s dress code which called for modest apparel. She did not. She dressed in clothing that looked like she had purchased when she was ten years old and somehow believed would still fit her ample frame. They didn’t.

But worse, she simply would not shut up and let Graham and the other salesman in the department do their jobs. They would be in the middle of a sales presentation and she would butt in, interrupt the conversation, then take it over. Because her priorities were in paper she would often interrupt the preparation of sales proposals and contract negotiations the salesman were working on to have them count inventory or complete a report, jobs which had traditionally been the role of the manager. Over time, the situation deteriorated provoking both salesmen to polish up resume’s and begin the search for another job. Both had become completely demotivated.

This situation, in principle, is repeated somewhere every day. Here’s a secret:

Motivation is a lot easier to kill than it is to create.

Why? Because motivation almost never is the issue. Leadership is. Most people already motivated. The ONLY time a leader or manager need wade into the motivation issue is when a subordinate’s motivation is towards objectives that are contrary to those of the department or company.

Another manager in another store addressed this in a general post on the company’s employee forum. Here is what he wrote:

The big thing here is that no two people are the same. What motivates one person will turn another individual off entirely so you are only getting 50% of your potential from the two people. This is also where the business manager loses so many people’s motivation. Yes, the store has targets and promotions to achieve that are required by the corporate mandate. But quoting facts and figures really doesn’t push everyone’s buttons, except for perhaps the ones that want to become business managers themselves. Ask yourself this question. Which scenario will get more from this particular individual? Telling them that the store is down by $50,000 and it needs to be made up by the close of the weekend, or, highlighting that an CSA (Customer Service Associate) did a fantastic job of creating a really eye catching display in their department. For me it is a no brainer, it is the second one. To start with, that person will have a value within the store. You know that sales in that particular item will be better due to the display, also other members of the store will be motivated to take customers to the display to show them and close more sales. This will have a knock on affect also in that other members of the store will want to create something in their department, either to gain recognition in their own right, or to just make their department better. For the “business” manager it is wins all around. He has a motivated member of staff driving sales along with the fact that this will increase takings and help to achieve what he needs which is to reduce the shortfall of his $50000. What’s more he need never have even told that person about the shortfall in sales as that was not what drove them in the first place. (emphasis mine)

There was a study conducted at MIT on motivation in the workplace. The findings were fascinating. They discovered that for tasks requiring mechanical skills, money worked very well as a motivator. Producing whatzits out of whozits at a faster rate can be inspired by offering more money.

But, once the task required even rudimentary cognitive skills – creativity, innovation, selling away from a script, and the like, monetary reward did not work well at all. Not at all!

So what does work?

When a task gets more complicated than making whatzits out of whozits, when it requires conceptual and or creative thinking, other components seem to work better.

Now let me clarify what I’ve just said. I am not implying that money is irrelevant in most cases.  The same study found that if you don’t pay people enough, motivation suffers. This remained consistent even beyond mechanical skill jobs. So we need to pay people enough to take the issue of money off the table. The thinking that that needs to be challenged is that more money alone will motivate in cognitive skill jobs.

Here is what the study discovered does motivate:

AUTONOMY – the ability and freedom to be self-directed. People who are on the move hate roadblocks and detours. Too often, as in Graham’s case, management ceased to be management and became meddling. He was pulled off course too often and required to perform jobs that effectively nullified autonomy.

I’ve been writing about power plays and there is one instance where insecure leaders demand compliance out of their employees because they do not trust those employees to get the job done unless every process and sequence is orchestrated. It is counterproductive but insecure leaders point to mediocre  results and reassure themselves that it would have been even worse had they not interfered.

Management of this sort is terrific if you want compliance. If you want engagement, if you want to create a team of associates who will extend your reach, multiply your effectiveness, and divide your work, you want something different than compliance.

You want engagement. This means that people integrate with their jobs. They internalize it. They have made what they do to become a validating factor in who they are. They take their jobs personally. Inept managers like the one mentioned above fail to understand this at all or, if they do acknowledge it, they do not appreciate it which results in disaster.

I wrote in an earlier post how a sales manager would walk rapidly through a department and drop a piece of paper on the desk. On the paper was printed the month’s sales goals. The salesmen simply threw the paper away without ever reading it. Why? Because productive and autonomous people respond far better to mutually set objectives.

At Atlassian, an Australian company, they give their developers a 24 hour period per quarter to work on anything they want and with whomever they want. They must report their results at the end of that time in a fun kind of meeting (cake and beer) but what they do is up to them. So what happens? The result has been new product lines and software fixes. They get paid for that 24 hours but there are no financial bonuses.

The second motivator is MASTERY – the urge to get better at stuff that interests you. It cannot be mandated because then it becomes a task and incentive disappears. Like all intrinsic motivation, it is internal and personal. There is a band called Brylcreem that plays occasionally here in our community. They are one of the best I have ever heard. They perform almost non-stop for three hours. Their fee is really negligible, hardly pays expenses. So why do they do it? They love it. They practice, they perform, they improve because they are motivated to master their craft. They do it because it is fun and brings them satisfaction and fulfillment.

If you doubt this motivator works, simply look at Linux which powers 1 in 4 corporate servers in Fortune 500 companies. You have Apache which powers more than the majority of web servers. You have Wikipedia and WordPress.

This brings me to the third motivator – MAKING A CONTRIBUTION. Highly skilled people working on projects outside their job because they want to make a difference. It makes us feel good, feel worthwhile, feel useful. I belong to the great brotherhood of ham radio operators. We donate thousands of man hours to help out in times of crisis and disaster recovery. Why? Because there is a higher motivator than money. I also am a volunteer mentor with SCORE, the Service Corps Of Retired Executives, who donate significant amounts of time to help others make a better life for themselves. Last week, which I wrote about in an earlier post, 7 of us volunteered to help polish the job interview presentations of graduating medical technicians. Around the table sat almost 300 years of business experience. Why? Because we made a contribution.

All three motivators can be summed up in one word – PURPOSE. When profit is disconnected from purpose, bad things happen. Ethics go out the window. Slimy customer service results. Purpose, the marriage of autonomy, mastery, and contribution motivate companies and the people who staff them to their absolute best in performance and product.

When we treat people like people instead of treating them like they were smaller, slower, better smelling horses, the results are phenomenal! The companies and organizations that do treat people like people not only make themselves better, they make the world better.

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