Motivate without Over-Managing
Many business leaders have lost sight of what motivates people at work. In fact, some companies haven’t updated their incentive practices in years, which means they’re probably struggling to create and sustain high-performing teams.
Companies continue to ignore the obvious: Offering incentives and rewards is less effective than tapping into truly meaningful intrinsic motivation. Leaders operate on old assumptions about motivation despite a wealth of well-documented scientific evidence.
The old “carrot-and-stick” mentality actually inhibits employees from seeking creative solutions, partly because they focus on attaining rewards instead of solving problems. Review the most notorious business failures, and you’ll find that company leaders focused on rewarding short-term results at the expense of sustaining success.
This approach is far from new. Social scientists have grasped what motivates people for more than 60 years. But managers continue to use the carrot/stick model with incentive programs. Regardless of gender, race, culture or generation, the reality is clear: Are you satisfying your people’s psychological needs?
The Motivational Trifecta
“Autonomy is our human need to perceive we have choices. It is our need to feel that what we are doing is of our own volition. It is our perception that we are the source of our actions.” ~ Susan Fowler, Why Motivating People Doesn’t Work…and What Does: The New Science of Leading, Energizing, and Engaging
As adults, we never lose our need for autonomy. Productivity significantly increases for blue-collar workers in manufacturing plants when they are given the ability to stop the line. So does the productivity of white-collar workers in major investment banks who report a high sense of autonomy.
But when managers become too involved in coaching, encouraging and pushing people to be productive, they can actually undermine perceived autonomy. It’s a fine line that requires Goldilocks management: just the right amount.
Relatedness is defined as our need to care about, and be cared for by, others. “It is our need to feel connected to others without concerns about ulterior motives,” Fowler notes. “It is our need to feel that we are contributing to something greater than ourselves.”
In 1924, Western Electric conducted one of the first studies on workplace behaviors at Hawthorne Works, a plant located just outside of Chicago. Researchers found that workers were more productive when they knew they were being observed and were included in social interactions.
We are social animals. When offered opportunities to work together, as in teams, our engagement and productivity increase. We thrive on connection. Leaders have enormous opportunities to help their people find meaning in workplace interpersonal experiences.
3. Competence: Lessons from Monkeys
In 1949, psychologist Harry Harlow placed puzzles in monkeys’ cages and was surprised to find that the primates successfully solved them. Harlow saw no logical reason for them to do so. So, what motivated them? The answer is threefold:
- The monkeys’ survival didn’t depend on solving the puzzles.
- They didn’t receive any rewards, nor avoid any punishments, for their work.
- They solved the puzzles because they had a desire to do so.
As to their motivation, Harlow offered a novel theory: “The performance of the task provided intrinsic reward.” That is, the monkeys performed because they found it gratifying to solve puzzles. They enjoyed it, and the joy of the task served as its own reward.
What Motivates People?
Twenty years passed before psychologist Edward Deci, now a professor at the University of Rochester, followed up on Harlow’s studies.
In 1969, he ran a series of experiments that showed students lost intrinsic interest in an activity when money was offered as an external reward. Although rewards can deliver a short-term boost, the effect wears off. Even worse, rewards can reduce a person’s longer-term motivation to continue a project.
People have an inherent tendency to seek out novelty and challenges, to extend and exercise their capacities, to explore, and to learn. Unlike drives (for thirst, food and sex), these needs are never completely satisfied. Even after we attain degrees of competency, autonomy and relatedness, we still want more.
Motivating without Micromanaging
Most managers want to motivate people to peak performance, but their approach often backfires. In their fervent desire to teach people what they know to be true, some managers enthusiastically over-manage.
Over-management can manifest as micromanagement. When you tell staffers what to do, how to do it, when to do it and why your way is better, you undermine their ability to think for themselves. They begin to feel powerless and controlled, and they many even start to doubt their competency.
Boost employee commitment by conducting a motivational outlook conversation. Ask your people to identify what motivates them to do their work. Your goal is to help them identify motivating factors that have maximum impact and create optimum energy.
- Most people identify several reasons for working: from the external (money or status) to the internal (finding meaning, acting on one’s values and ideals, aspiring to a higher purpose). Fowler adds the following:Alignment: I value developing people.
She also cites negative motivational outlooks:
- Imposition: I have to; it’s my job.
- Externalization: It’s what I’m paid to do.
- Disinterest: I’d rather be doing something else.
Motivational conversations help people discover different reasons for doing their work. Once they pinpoint their current motivations, they can work toward finding their internal motivations—ideally, those that relate to their values.
You can develop the qualities of positive leadership by working with a professional coach. The investment is well worth the reward: your ability to influence the future, your career and your personal-development capabilities.
Are you working in a company where executive coaches provide leadership development to help leaders put positive leadership into action? Does your organization provide executive coaching for leaders who need to be more conscious, and tap into the intrinsic motivation of followers? Positive leaders tap into their emotional intelligence and social intelligence skills to create a more fulfilling future.
One of the most powerful questions you can ask yourself is “Am I a positive leader who inspires individuals and organizations to achieve their highest potential, flourish at work, experience elevating energy and achieve levels of effectiveness difficult to attain otherwise?” Emotionally intelligent and socially intelligent organizations provide executive coaching to help leaders develop more positive teams.
Working with a seasoned executive coach and leadership consultant trained in emotional intelligence and incorporating assessments such as the Bar-On EQ-I, CPI 260 and Denison Culture Survey can help leaders nurture mindful conversations in the workplace. You can become an inspiring leader who models emotional intelligence and social intelligence, and who inspires people to become fully engaged with the vision, mission and strategy of your company or law firm.
Working Resources is a San Francisco Bay Area Executive Coaching Firm Helping Innovative Companies and Law Firms Assess, Select, Coach, Engage and Retain Emotionally Intelligent Leaders; Executive Coaching; Leadership Development; Performance-Based Interviewing; Competency Modeling; Succession Management; Culture Change; Career Coaching and Leadership Retreats
...About Dr. Maynard Brusman
Dr. Maynard Brusman
Consulting Psychologist and Executive Coach|
Trusted Advisor to Executive Leadership Teams
Mindfulness & Emotional Intelligence Workplace Expert
Dr. Maynard Brusman is a consulting psychologist and executive coach. He is the president of Working Resources, a leadership consulting and executive coaching firm. We specialize in helping San Francisco Bay Area companies select and develop emotionally intelligent leaders. Maynard is a highly sought-after speaker and workshop leader. He facilitates leadership retreats in Northern California and Costa Rica. The Society for Advancement of Consulting (SAC) awarded Dr. Maynard Brusman "Board Approved" designations in the specialties of Executive Coaching and Leadership Development.
“Maynard Brusman is one of the foremost coaches in the United States. He utilizes a wide variety of assessments in his work with senior executives and upper level managers, and is adept at helping his clients both develop higher levels of emotional intelligence and achieve breakthrough business results. As a senior leader in the executive coaching field, Dr. Brusman brings an exceptional level of wisdom, energy, and creativity to his work.” — Jeffrey E. Auerbach, Ph.D., President, College of Executive Coaching
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