Motivation – carrot or stick?

How many senior partners or finance directors understand what motivates their staff? Too often rewards are not seen as motivators, but as punishment in reverse – work hard or you will not receive the praise you deserve. Managers cannot force motivation on anyone, but self-motivation is a much underrated virtue.

If someone is switched off at work, it is possible to inspire them again. But there are two sides to motivation that managers need to understand if they are to use it effectively. The first is grasping what pushes people to do certain things. Why do people walk across the Sahara for charity? Could it be because they are driven by things such as challenge, achievement or recognition?’

The other side of this is to know what causes people to become disconnected or switched off. Studies show that people become demotivated in the absence of things that they value -things like fairness at work, good pay and decent conditions, as well as being treated fairly in terms of equal opportunities.

When most managers or partners think of motivation, they think of rewards, and invariably they assume that means pay. But those who rely on money to buy them people must be aware that this is contrary to team working. Offering individual rewards and then asking people to work together sends out very mixed messages.

For some, the answer lies in deciding not to reward people individually, but instead rewarding effective teams. But what of the effective people who achieve a lot for themselves and for the partnership on the basis of individual excellence?

These people are valuable, but when managing a large group of employees, partners have to balance how they reward those individually-inclined people, while at the same time giving incentive to collectively-inclined workers.

Reward-based pay is the most difficult part of human resource management and many companies find it hard to pick their way through the minefield. Some do not even take account of the fact that, within our society, many people choose to work in low-pay sectors such as healthcare and education, because they may be motivated by giving rather than receiving money.

This leads to an interesting dilemma when firms staffed by people motivated by giving more than receiving, are managed by people who are more motivated by receiving than giving. It is the reason that many large public-sector organisations and those run as partnerships experience problems with performance-related pay.

A group of partners within a large accountancy firm were recently asked, during a training session, to think of the best manager they had ever had, and identify what it was that the person had done or said to make them so good. For Mark, a senior partner who had worked his way up the corporate ladder to his current position, the answer was obvious.

The best manager he had known was someone who had provided clear direction and then involved him in deciding how he could help provide the solutions to their company’s problems. This was coupled with trust, support and a light hand on the tiller. Mark said he felt valued and this made him realise exactly how he should work with his own team.

Managers should take the time to find out what motivates their staff and the rewards they seek, instead of treating them in the way that they would like to be treated themselves.

Work hard and you will receive a bonus. Do not put enough hours into your job and you will be sacked. In both cases, motivation is required, but all that it achieves is compliance.

Employees know that, just by putting in the minimum number of hours, their jobs are safe. But does this make them work any harder for the company? Does it ensure their commitment to the firm?

Commitment has been described as a deliberate alternative to control. Instead of controlling people, managers can win their commitment, so that people can control themselves. Control limits growth and development to the thinking capacity of individual managers, but commitment can

free up the firm beyond that capacity, to include the entire staff. Commitment is what switches people on and makes them want to go the extra mile.

So how can partners gain the commitment of their staff? Involving them in generating the solutions to organisational problems is a good start. When people set their own goals, targets and objectives, they actually become internally committed to achieving them.

Someone who tells their manager that they can achieve a certain level of performance is far more likely to try to achieve it, than someone who is given targets that may not even be realistic.

Self-motivation is what switches people on and makes them want to do something -whether it is work harder or cross the Sahara on foot. Being given unrealistic targets is what switches them off and causes de-motivation.

What causes people to do certain things? There are two things – the reward they get from doing it and their commitment to the task. These can be very powerful for senior partners to tap into, if they understand them and how they apply to individuals.

Many people have their own internal drive and self-motivation, yet all too often, employees are selected on their technical expertise or experience. Skills can be learnt and experience gained, but if there is no motivation, it cannot be switched on. Should bosses perhaps pay more attention to selecting people with self-motivation?

As managers, the most we can do is encourage or increase the level of motivation, but we cannot create it out of nothing.

However, recruit people who have their own drive and commitment, treat them like individuals, reward them as they want to be rewarded, give them their own responsibilities and they will show their commitment to their jobs and the future of the business.

Simon Turner is a director of Upturn Associates

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