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What does “motivation” mean, and why should leaders care?

In last month’s blog, Bill pointed out that every person who works for you is a volunteer – they decide whether to take the job in the first place, and they can decide to quit at any time.  Sure, you can fire them if they don’t perform, and that MIGHT motivate them IF they are afraid of being sacked, but at the end of 2016 there were 579 people unemployed in the Isle of Man, so how long will they be out of work?  Besides, people motivated by fear only work hard enough to avoid the consequences.  Out the window goes initiative, creativity, anything that might get them into trouble, and in comes resentment and an “us versus them” mentality where management are concerned.

Surely what we want is for our people to identify with our objectives – to actively want to do their very best.  Achieving this is what motivation is all about.

It’s easy to get it wrong.  Just think about how many people start a new job full of enthusiasm, and then just sink into routine, boredom, the same old stuff.  How that happens, and what we can do to prevent it is the million dollar question.  The answer surely starts with what people get out of work.

We all work for lots of reasons.  For most people the priority is to meet their basic needs: food, shelter, clothing, education for the kids, whatever.  In our society we mostly have that covered, so we need our job to pay for our lifestyle.  For many people, these things are all they get from their job, and they get more from volunteer work, or in the family, or in a hobby or sport.

So if you want your people to be motivated, it’s not enough just to provide them with the necessities.  Things like pay, work environment, terms and conditions, and skilled supervision are only the foundations.  If you get them wrong the staff will be de-motivated, but nothing you do in these areas will motivate them to do more than is required.  To really get them on board, people need job satisfaction, recognition, control over the way they work, a sense of belonging, and above all an understanding that they matter in the bigger picture.

A classic story makes the point: an American President, while visiting NASA, met one of the toilet cleaners and asked him what he did at the space centre.  The man replied “I’m putting a man on the moon, Mr President.”  A man in a low pay, low status job understood that what he did had significance to achievement of the organisation’s goal – and that mattered to him and motivated him to do the best job he could.

Incidentally, this is a virtuous circle: the better motivated people are, the more they achieve, the more job satisfaction they experience, the more motivated they are!

So take the time to understand what makes your people tick, no matter how busy you are.  It’s not about the money – it’s about how they feel about the job.  How would it feel if all your team CHOSE to follow your lead with commitment and enthusiasm?  That’s the satisfaction (and motivation!) that real leaders experience.