The new science of motivation has revolutionized thinking about what does—and does not—motivate high levels of performance. But the message hasn’t made its way into general business practices. Managers continue to beat the “results and accountability drum,” which is focused on setting goals and expecting people to perform, and employees continue to work hard toward the result. However, with a chronically high proportion of disengaged employees (70% worldwide), clearly some kind of change is called for.
Dr. David Facer, a motivation expert and co-author of the new Optimal Motivation™ process from The Ken Blanchard Companies®, believes that managers should be focused on fostering environments in which it is easy for employees to do excellent work. In his opinion, employees are feeling a great deal of pressure and not nearly enough support.
“What employees want from their managers is to be engaged in a different way. If we can help managers understand how to engage people in ways that capture more of employees’ imagination, tap into employees’ natural inclinations to do great work, and to join willingly and eagerly with other colleagues to do that work, I think we will find new reservoirs of energy and creativity, which in turn lead to innovation and competitive advantage that isn’t available when the managers and senior leaders are merely banging the ‘results and accountability drum.'”
Why hasn’t motivation changed?
Facer believes that managers’ hearts are in the right place, but that they don’t know how to engage employees in new ways. As a result, they use the traditional tools of motivation that are usually tied to economics. This includes compensation, rewards, or recognition programs that have, at their root, a monetary foundation. In Facer’s opinion, these aspects of motivation are important but they do not fully tap into other essential aspects of work that are meaningful to employees.
“When leaders approach employees merely talking about the economic side of things employees often feel misunderstood. The whole point of Optimal Motivation and what the new science of motivation is helping us understand is that it’s not a question of more, but instead a question of quality. We change the quality of motivation by including a focus and emphasis on autonomy, relatedness, and competence as well as the quality of the environment in general.
“If we don’t change, we will end up with the same behaviors and conversations we’ve been having for decades. At some point we have to ask, ‘If we keep doing things the way we’ve been doing them for the past 40 years, why would we expect anything to get better?’
“We have to realize first and foremost that people decide to join an organization based on their perception of what is possible for them in it. In their daily work, people decide whether a task, goal, or situation is worth their effort based on the upside that they project. Much of this upside relates to perceptions of whether it will allow them to be a more free-functioning employee with more options and choices. Is it going to help me build and enrich relationships? Is it going to help me grow in my current role and grow over the course of my career? If the answers to those questions are mostly yes, you will see a person who is very positive, optimistic, and forward leaning. It leads to a more creative type of participation in the task, goal, or situation.
“If an employee instead perceives that their needs for autonomy, relatedness, or competence will not be satisfied, you are going to get standoffish, halfhearted participation. They will not be bringing everything that they could possibly bring intellectually and behaviorally. They will basically be leaving discretionary effort on the table.”
The important role of managers
Managers have a key role because of their elevated positions in the organization. They control more resources than individual employees. They have more power and authority. They have a greater opportunity to foster an environment in which people are more likely to feel that they are thriving at work. But that doesn’t mean that individuals should sit back and wait for the perfect manager to come along, according to Facer.
“Individuals have a responsibility to identify and acknowledge their need for a sense of positive energy, vitality, and a sense of well-being around their work. It can lead to having different conversations among themselves and with their managers, which can lead to a sense that they can be much more in control of the quality of their experience than they thought possible. Employees have an ability to turn on and source autonomy, relatedness, and competence for themselves.
“This new understanding opens up the possibility to see that there is a lot more that can be done on the motivational side beyond banging the ‘results and accountability drum,’ or throwing money at the engagement problem. There are untapped sources of energy in all organizations and individuals and, by tapping into them, managers can begin to have an influence on the wider system.”
Create a positive progression
When managers and employees begin to think beyond external “incentives” and include factors such as autonomy, relatedness, and competence, people will light up. You will see a shift in demeanor and a shift in attitude. This will be expressed in what they say and how they work with others.
That, over time, begins to change the way that people communicate, share information, and work together to solve problems. It also changes the way people react to new opportunities.
As Facer explains, “It’s an environmental change that leads to the creation of innovative products and services that can have a transforming positive impact on the life of an organization and its customers, whether the customer is buying manufactured items, services, healthcare, or other high-end solutions. It’s a logical progression that will lead to positive business outcomes down the road. The research shows that optimal motivation is linked to creativity and that creativity over time is linked to innovation, new products, and services that organizations need to be leaders and to fulfill their purpose.”