How Best to Motivate Employees
• By Barry Moline, Executive Director, FMEA
It’s not money.
Really. It’s not money. Even though the editors of my column might disagree and seek to alter the wording here (they may already have!), money is not the principle motivator why your employees seek to excel.
Well, let me rephrase that. Money is important. Strangely, it’s not the chief motivator. Let me explain.
In his book Drive, The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, author Danial H. Pink emphasizes three significant reasons why we do what we do.
Money is important, but only goes so far. That is, you have to pay people enough where they can live, where they can enjoy life, and where they feel they are being fairly compensated. Pink says you have to take the money issue “off the table.”
Of course, we all want money, and perhaps in our dreams, as much as possible. But money may not be the kind of thing we seek if it means we have to give up important things in life, like spending time with family, hobbies like fishing, boating, hunting and playing guitar, and vacations/travel. The point is, once people feel they are fairly compensated, there are other factors that are more important in being motivated to do a great job.
What are these three magical motivations? Autonomy, mastery and purpose.
Autonomy is our desire to make our own decisions. In the workplace, it’s about self-direction, or directing our own lives. Traditional management may appear to run counter to this concept. That is… “Do this, and do it this way.” A manager using autonomy would say “Here’s what needs to get done, and how do you think we should do it?” To some managers, this can be unnerving. It requires trust to provide autonomy, and perhaps trial and error. That is, do it once, see how it works, and build on that success or correction. Nevertheless, working toward autonomy is a major motivator, because it gives us the feeling we are in control. Autonomy goes hand-in-hand with taking responsibility, something all employers like to see.
Mastery is developing expertise. As Pink describes, “Mastery is our urge to get better at stuff; we like to get better at stuff.” Hobbies are an expression of mastery. We play guitar to enjoy the music, but also to get better. We fish to enjoy a day on the water, but also to be a better angler. We knit to make a scarf for a friend but also to get better and someday make a sweater. We don’t expect to be paid for any of those activities; rather, we usually pay to do them.
At work, mastery is a combination of experience, training and continuing education. We have to achieve some level of expertise to have our jobs, and through experience, taking classes and going to industry conferences we learn more to master our skills. That is satisfying.
Purpose is the feeling that what you are doing has a higher purpose for society. If what we do at electric utilities is nothing more than working at a kilowatt-hour factory (i.e., burning coal and/or natural gas to produce kilowatts and profits), then there’s not much redeeming value. However, what we do at public power utilities is build strong communities. Utilities are complicated organizations. We produce and distribute electricity safely; record it, bill and account for it, manage it so there’s always enough, and help our customers live vibrant lives by using it. We are the backbone of our communities, providing a local service that is highly reliable and top quality, helping fund our community’s growth, and staying accountable to our community’s needs. Our higher purpose is that we build a strong community.
I believe that few people will argue if you pay them more money. However, money is not the key to staying motivated. We humans seek a higher calling. We want to spend our lives doing something good, getting better as we go, while making as many of our own decisions along the way as we can. It’s important that leaders understand these motivations and inspire employees to achieve that higher plane of meaning.
Go to www.publicpower.com/Pink for a copy of Daniel Pink’s speech on “Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us, and a link to the 10-minute video animation. Take the time. It will be 10 minutes well-spent.