Idea Of Motivating Employees

The one size fits all idea of motivating employees has been around for too long. For years, management has been of the belief that dangling a carrot in front of an employee and telling him/her to keep reaching for it to reap the rewards has worked. Well, it didn’t then and it doesn’t now. Soon enough, the employees tunes in to the idea that the carrot will continue to be in front, replaced by another carrot and another carrot and another carrot. One can liken this to Wyle E. Coyote chasing the road runner. The road runner is never caught and thus, the carrot, or what it stands for is never achieved.

Why An Elusive Carrot?
Why, as employees, do we keep falling for this? Why do we believe management when they say that we will be rewarded once we reach the carrot and then find that the carrot is little-by-little, moved further away? The answer is easy – because management doesn’t really know what the carrot is! Let me repeat that management doesn’t really know what the carrot is! So in order to fully understand this idea of motivation, let’s break the carrot scenario down to its bare bones. An employee starts to work for a company with the expectation that if he/she stays with the company long enough he/she will be rewarded with trinkets and treasures beyond the customary paycheck

The employee spends X amount of time with the company, becomes proficient at his/her job and management immediately pulls out the carrot because once an employee masters his/her job, he/she wants more. The employee wants to move to the top of the organization. No wait, I know, the employee wants money, like a bonus check for example. That’s it! That’s the way to motivate an employee and ensure that he/she remains an employee for years and years.

Buzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz – wrong answer Bob!
Studies have shown that the carrot in front of the employee doesn’t work as a motivating tool. Also, the idea that everybody wants a bonus does not work as a motivating tool either. According to Daniel Pink, “If you want people to perform better, you reward them, right? Bonuses, commissions, their own reality show. Incentivize them. … But that’s not happening here. You’ve got an incentive designed to sharpen thinking and accelerate creativity, and it does just the opposite. It dulls thinking and blocks creativity.”

This is right brained thinking at its finest. So how does one spark creativity in an employee if it is not done with the carrot and the stick? Well, it’s pretty simply. I’m going to let you in on a little secret – ask the employee what he/she “thinks” is a motivator. Yep, it’s really that simple. Ask the employee what he/she wants; what his/her career plans are; where he/she sees him/herself in five, seven and ten years. You might just be surprised by what your employees see as motivators.

Old Habits Are Hard To Break
Many years ago, I had a supervisor who was simply determined to come into the office, place her bags in her office and proceed to sit in my office and talk with me about my day, my life, my kids (I don’t have any) and if I throw in a conversation about my dog, this article will begin to sound like a bad country song. Every time she came into my office and spoke with me first the two other employees with whom we worked would be argumentative, insubordinate and downright rude. Finally after watching this for about a month and channeling the Organizational Development specialist in me, I asked her to take part in an experiment. I asked her to change her habits by talking to the two other employees in the office before even acknowledging me. I asked her to do this consistently for a week and then at the end of the week, I asked if we could discuss her findings. As I suspected, when the two employees were approached first, they felt included in the team; welcomed into the fold and ultimately felt appreciated that they were there. The supervisor was befuddled. How could speaking with those two employees change the course of how they acted? Easily, because what motivated these two employees was inclusion – being part of the team.

The supervisor asked me how I knew the outcome before the experiment took place. My answer was simple – I listen and I watch. Listening to and watching your employees are two easy ways to determine what motivates them. Now I on the other hand, explained to the supervisor that while I do enjoy her company, I am motivated by autonomy. I prefer to work alone, I motivate myself by mastering the tasks I undertake and when I can make a difference, the purpose I find with the organization. But while Pink coined autonomy, mastery and purpose, we should not stop there. Find out what motivates the employee. An organization may be throwing money at an employee when a simple “thank you for a job well done” will suffice and mean more to the employee than money on which he/she will probably be taxed at 25%.