You Are Only As Strong As Your Weakest Link – Motivation, A Driving Force Behind Employee Productivity

Winston Churchill once said that attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference.

This is especially true when applied in a workplace setting. Employees who lack enthusiasm, initiative and positive attitude – no matter how brilliant they may be – are no asset to the company. Yet we all can agree that when things at work get mundane and repetitive, it is rather tempting to succumb to the lackluster tedium of the routine and fall into a state of perpetual inertia. The force that can give a hibernating workplace a fresh impetus is motivation.

Employees are the heart of a company, and you can think of motivation as a force which propels that heart to pump the blood through the company’s body. Therefore, understanding what motivates employees and being able to exercise these factors is crucial for any manager and business owner.

Motivating your employees is likely the least costly thing you can do to boost their morale and productivity. Not only will it allow you to increase the company’s efficiencies, but it will also deliver a happier and more driven workforce.

Much research has been conducted on the subject, with new findings being published regularly in behavioral science journals. Theory and practice, however, are two distinctly different realms; in practice, factors that drive full-time employees can differ from the ones that motivate part-timers, tactics and advice applicable to a small business setting may turn virtually ineffective in the corporate environment, etc.

What is the cause of such inconsistencies? Human factors, mainly. Your unique individual circumstances and resources are the chief reason why the success strategies of others may not necessarily work for you. In my experience, personal values and relationships play a major role in determining what incentives impel employees to be more enthusiastic about their work, and experienced managers will agree that motivation is a tool that works on a case-by-case basis. It is important, though, to be able to identify and distinguish between the two main types of motivation: extrinsic and intrinsic.

Extrinsic motivation is dependent upon and can be provided by a number of external incentives such as bonuses, pay raises, awards, extra vacation days and so forth. Intrinsic motivation comes from within the individual, triggered by a pleasant workplace environment and employee job satisfaction.

A recent study on motivation and productivity conducted by Westminster College showed that while managers placed a greater premium on external rewards as a key to employee motivation, employees, in fact, did not value monetary rewards as much as recognition, congeniality, and a sense of pride, fellowship and common loyalty. This doesn’t mean that extrinsic rewards do not work; they actually do, but the value of intrinsic motivation is greater.

While motivating employees using external rewards can work in the short run, stimulating employee intrinsic motivation is more beneficial for the company from a long-run perspective.

Westminster’s previous research also shows that under regular conditions employees tend to work at only about two-thirds of their capacity. So, it is essential for managers to establish trusting work relationships with their employees and get to know them on an individual level in order to find out what stimulates them. Only by motivating employees can managers help them reach their full potential.

With that in mind, you may wonder how, exactly, should you approach this daunting task? To set yourself up for success, first, you need to cover the four essential basics:

  1. Formulate a clear mission and comprehensive set of goals, and communicate them to all. Let your employees know that, no matter how small their own task is, you all are working towards the common goal and everyone’s contribution matters. If you can show them how their contribution connects to the larger goal, it’s even better.
  2. Create a culture of growth. There is nothing more discouraging – and frankly depressing – than a stagnant workplace environment. It will suffocate your employees and your efforts to motivate them. Working in a vibrant, growth-oriented culture and being a part of a “winning” team can be a big boost to morale.
  3. Hire only “A” players when you form or reshape your workforce. Choose people who are not reluctant to go an extra mile when necessary and who embrace responsibility. Let them do what they are good at. Put an emphasis on “right person in the right role” and give them the support and tools they need to succeed.
  4. Set an example. Managers who are not driven will not succeed in motivating others. Only by showing your employees how passionate and strongly committed you are to your job, will you be able to incite similar emotions in them.

Next, you need to get to know your people. What is important to them, what do they enjoy most about their jobs? Don’t assume that their chief concern is just having the job or getting paid. People have values that are more important to them than anything that money can buy:

Achievement – Acknowledge people for their achievements, no matter how small. Employees need to know that they matter and that their work helps the company. Organize regular meetings with your employees, where you will come together and talk about their ideas, goals and accomplishments.

Engagement – Many times employees want to contribute and help the company grow, but have limited opportunities to do so. Talk to your employees. In addition to your performance-planning process, ask them what they would like to contribute and how they would like to make an impact.

Community – Employees who have formed positive relationships with their managers and other employees tend to be more enthusiastic about their work compared to the employees who don’t have such connections. Find ways for the team to come together to communicate and support one another. A clear communication program will be immensely beneficial.

Most people are self-motivated. You cannot instill motivation into someone who doesn’t want it. As a manager, what you can do is to create and foster an environment that will encourage employees to get motivated. Recognizing the values that are most important to your employees will allow you to harness their power, better motivate your workforce, and turn good employees into great ones.