Motivation, defined as deliberate attempt to influence employee behavior with the goal to enhance their performance & organizational effectiveness, is the key driver of job performance for it determines the level of effort and persistence employees will exert. Top performers tend to stand out as much for their motivation as for their talent.
A global survey, of more than 50 Fortune 1000 companies and 1.2 million employees, shows that employee motivation declines sharply after people have spent six months with their managers. In other words, most employees are enthusiastic, motivated and engaged when they start their new jobs, but it takes only a few months for them to get demotivated.This is perhaps why Peter Drucker famously lamented that “we know nothing about motivation — all we can do is write books about it.”
This leads us to the core question of ‘How to motivate employees’.
Approach motivation as a science rather than as an art, as very few individuals are naturally good at motivating people; instead of following your instincts adopt a data-driven approach. This process starts by acknowledging the flaws of common motivational practices and challenging their underlying myths with actual evidence.
There are four major reasons why most motivational practices fail:
- A simplistic approach to goal setting:While goal setting is a well-researched technique for driving motivation and performance, it is not as simple as practitioners assume. Research shows that ambitious targets work well when the job is transactional and where inputs & outcomes can be precisely defined. In contrast, when motivating someone who is working on a complex, intellectual, or creative task, asking people to “do their best” will produce better results.
- Avoid biased evaluations of performance:If managers become aware of in-group biases, they will be further motivated to seek objective data to evaluate the employees’ potential vis-a-vis performance. Most managers seem to have a natural proclivity to reward employees who are like them, this leads to distorted evaluations of performance and harms diversity; in turn creating an unfair, highly political climate.
- The boring nature of work:While many managers see their role as motivating people through pep-talks, inspirational speeches, or pizza parties, the reality is that the best way a leader can drive motivation is by designing jobs well and putting people in the right roles. This means paying close attention to the functional and psychological characteristics of the job, ensuring that it fulfills each employees drivers, and helping them to see intrinsic value of the work itself.
- Useless feedback: It is important to have accurate as well as constructive feedback as a critical driver of motivation and performance.Poor quality of feedback actually demotivates people; while it’s tempting to encourage people to focus on their strengths, it is equally important to identify flaws and performance gaps to improve. On the flip side, a boss who is overly critical or demanding becomes tiresome and no amount of money can make up for that.
The team at Actuate Business Consulting, a knowledge based management consulting firm in India, believes that while technology and data analytics are revolutionizing many business functions, most HR departments still tend to to use their instincts and intuition, rather than data and science (scientific approach), which is ubiquitous and limits real progress in improving managerial performance.