Misguided motivation tactics drive down performance
Employers that fail to adapt their motivational tactics to employees' individual drivers risk creating workers who drag down company performance, according to Samantha Hickey, professional services manager at SHL.
Spotting themMost of the time, employers don't find out which workers respond positively to increased pressure and which ones don't until after the event, Hickey says.
"[When] you put somebody in a fairly stressful situation you find out fairly quickly what's going on for that person."
But there are ways to determine what motivates employees - and what de-motivates them and "switches them off" - without taking such risks.
One of these is with an objective questionnaire which asks workers to rate - on a scale of one to five - how specific scenarios affect their motivation to work. SHL's questionnaire, for example, asks about the effects of situations such as "being expected to take responsibility for tasks" and "having to train a new member of staff".
But managers can learn about what motivates their staff without structured surveys, she adds. The key is to ask about specific situations because "often people don't have ready language around their motivators. Simply asking someone what motivates them is not enough to determine what will drive them to deliver results… If you say to someone 'what motivates you in the workplace?' you might get a 'having good things to do' sort of response."
Managers should use a technique where they say, for example, "Let's look at the most recent project that you've done. What were the things about the project that you found really exciting and positive and motivating? And what were the things that you found more difficult, more frustrating, less interesting?" Hickey recommends.
"It doesn't have to be about a project but it's about helping people go from what can be very broad-brush questions of 'what motivates you?' to 'let's try and think of some practical examples and pull the seams out of that kind of approach'."
Using this technique might not uncover the same breadth of motivators as a structured questionnaire, "but you find out what were the ones that came up recently. It certainly gives you a starting point to come to grips with".
Responding to resultsOnce an employer understands what motivates its workers it can align its systems to increase productivity, Hickey says.
"Simple changes can have a big impact on performance. If an individual is driven by recognition, a manager can motivate them by praising them when a task is completed successfully.
"On the other hand, individuals can also be de-motivated if managers praise too much and diminish the weight of the original recognition," she says.
Usually, an individual will have up to five motivators that are really important to them, so even when one happens to be "material rewards" and there is no money in the budget, an employer can focus on other drivers such as recognition or personal development opportunities, she adds.
Misguided motivation creates 'stayers'Failing to address employees' motivators or acting in ways that de-motivate them can cause workers to fall into a 'stayer' state, dragging business performance down, Hickey says.
"'Stayers' are employees who do just enough to keep their job, coasting along and delivering average results.
"But in this climate, average is simply not enough. Organisations need their people to step up and work smarter, better and faster."
Organisations that don't recognise what drives their staff during times of slowdown also risk losing them when economic conditions improve, she says.
"In addition to impacting productivity now, motivation can affect business performance in the future.
"If employees are de-motivated when times are tough, then it is likely they will jump ship once the market picks up again."
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