Have you ever wondered what the killers of motivation are? Lack of purpose and goals; lack of trust; excessive control and the inability to achieve objectives on your own; unnecessary rules; no appreciation. There are myriad killers of motivation, which almost always fall into one of the above categories. None should be ignored, as they all threaten your company.
In pursuit of the right way to boost motivation, I was first driven by the logic of performance appraisal, extensively thinking about carrot-and-stick methods and a kind of bonus model. The connection between measurement, bonuses, and motivation seemed clear. Indeed, there are situations when bonuses are the only way to go, for example in sales and customer support. Simplifying sales is a lot about hearing “no” from prospects, sometimes in very rude forms. As humans, we fear rejection and thus it can be difficult to enjoy the work process, though there is a small percentage of people who do. Sales are very easy to measure, and thus a bonus model fits perfectly with this job.
At the same time, it strikes me that with measuring come risks. Our measurements might be based on the wrong metrics. After all, we are creating a model of reality that cannot account for all factors. There can be unclear performance dependencies, when my performance depends not on me but on external factors as well. We tend to ignore variability, when there is simply no explanation for a performance variation. What if our result depends not only on our team’s performance but on other factors as well? Employees will be conflicted between focusing more on the tasks that will earn them praise and focusing on what’s most important for the company.
Ignoring the above risks may lead to a feeling that we’re not trusted and appreciated. And if we’re not trusted and appreciated, any chance of just feeling good about our work vanishes into thin air. Determining wages and employees’ futures based on quantifiable measurements is counterproductive in environments that are not monotonous and easily modelled, but what is the way out?
My experience has taught me that the idea that people are naturally unmotivated is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Most people are motivated by nature. Most employees are motivated unless they have a reason to be unmotivated. Treating them as if we don’t believe in their self-motivation is a very strong demotivator that fulfils this prophecy.
The key to successful team management is thus in protecting this built-in motivation. The task in front of every CEO and senior manager is to ensure that motivation doesn’t get depleted over time and to eliminate unnecessary demotivating factors. Our mission is simply not to demotivate our employees, but instead to sustain their natural motivational reserves. Motivation is a subject that you can write books about. But we cannot keep thinking in books.
We need simple guidelines to help us focus without spreading our attention too thin. Based on my experience, I’ve distilled five essential factors that you can easily remember to keep motivation in balance. By inverting the above-mentioned demotivators, we get the Five A’s:
Motivation is our watchword in everything we do, and it starts with a clear vision and a sense of purpose. A vision and sense of purpose are crucial for motivating employees. To put it simply, team members have to see the light at the end of the tunnel. The first time John F. Kennedy was visiting NASA, he met a janitor who was mopping the floor. When the president asked him what he was doing there, the janitor replied that he was helping to put a man on the moon. Despite his seemingly mundane responsibilities, the janitor was charged with the right energy and motivation, seeing himself as an indispensable part of a huge project.
In this hierarchy of motivation, however, the above-mentioned factors are not enough to sustain the right motivational balance. Cultivating authority, the third factor on our list, means approaching employees as experts in their field. We rarely hear a taxi driver ask permission to turn left or right because he or she is the one who knows the route. When it comes to autonomy, I always try to set goals rather than set immediate tasks in order to help people brainstorm and find the best solutions themselves. In the example of the taxi driver, autonomy would mean indicating that we want to get somewhere fast or the cheapest way possible and then letting the driver decide on the route accordingly. An approach based on authority and autonomy requires trust. After relating to your employees this way, you will learn to appreciate them as individuals.
But there’s no reason to worry if you’ve noticed that demotivation is still in the air. Perfection is not your goal. In every company, you’ll find a small percentage of superstars and a small percentage of rotten apples, and your next step is to nourish the first and cut the connection between the motivated majority and the rotten apples. Following the Five A’s model, you’ll naturally learn how to distinguish the rotten apples and keep them from demotivating your team.
Even if they are motivated, it is a myth that overloaded employees can deliver better results in shorter periods of time. From our experience, teams that end up overcommitting are less likely to deliver on time and on value simply because high levels of stress devour their capacity. Employees should carry their weight but no more. Stress is the biggest performance killer of a group. To reduce the risks of stress, we take the following steps:
By reducing workloads to optimal levels and providing our team with priorities, we don’t leave stress a chance. We use software so our developers collect all their tasks under one roof and sort through them based on urgency, demand, and effort. Our developers no longer experience difficulties in complex situations that involve multi-project task dependencies. Combined, these approaches protect the motivation of our employees and bring harmony to our company. In the last three years, the size of our company has tripled. I credit this growth to the following steps we’ve taken toward ensuring employee motivation, project success, and business value.