Why Staff Motivation doesn’t work: Employees are not robots that must be wound up every day.

Everyone knows a motivated workforce is essential to business success.  But the mistake people make is to try and motivate staff rather than addressing the reasons why staff are demotivated in the first place.

In essence, they address the symptom rather than the cause. Often the problem is not actually with the employee, but with the manager; not with staff motivation, but with company de motivation

A demotivated workforce is not the result of a manager failing to motivate them, but the symptom of management behaviour and corporate culture that inadvertently leads to de-motivation. Most people are motivated. (And you shouldn’t hire those who aren’t . They want to do a good job, improve, make a difference and be part of something bigger.  Allow them to do that and you have a motivated workforce. Stop them from doing this and you will have a motivation issue.

The real problem here is when we think of employees like little robots that need to be “wound up” every morning so they are motivated do their job, rather than fully human and fully capable of having internal motivation.  They don’t come to work broken; it’s when management and company culture get it wrong that we break their motivation.

This is not to say all of the material on motivating employees is wrong, just the wrong way round. For instance, in the one minute manager, Kenneth Blanchard suggests we should “catch them doing something right“.  That’s good advice, but only because “not catching them doing something right” is very demotivating. If you come to work every day to do your best and make a difference, but no one notices or cares, how long will you be motivated? If you develop ideas and proposals but get no feedback, comment or action, how many more will you produce?

It may seem like a play on words, but it makes a significant difference to how you solve the problem and the attitude towards implementing it from both staff and managers. Trying to motivate staff externally can often be seen as a cynical attempt at improving their productivity, and can demotivate them even further.

Is it really possible to put motivation into an employee? Isn’t it already there? In which case organisations should not seek to artificially create motivation, but instead focus on removing the barriers that deteriorate it within the person and organisation.

Having a company vision that clearly articulates a better tomorrow isn’t an optional marketing tool, it’s about what you as an organisation stand for and the collective difference you want to make. How can an employee make a difference, if they don’t even know what their company stands for?

If you want to harness your employees’ internal motivation, then you need to involve them in the company and not just as part of their role, but as a stakeholder. There should be real dialogue – not internal marketing – with both problems and decisions communicated and explained.

Rather than investing time in pep talks or motivational training courses, why not try engaging with your staff every day, asking them how you can help them improve and reviewing what they achieved the previous day.

Maybe it’s time we killed off the annual staff appraisal and remove the biggest excuse managers use for not engaging with their staff every day.

Update 25/6/2013

I have been surprised at the popularity of this particular post – it accounts for over 50% of  views – and clearly there is considerable interest in the area of motivation. I am keen to understand if this interest is from an employee or manager perspective and whether this post has helped or hindered you. Leave a comment or drop me an email (nick.whiteley@innogise.com) and let me know your thoughts (Depending on feedback I may write more on this topic). You may also be interested in a follow up post here


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One Response to Why Staff Motivation doesn’t work: Employees are not robots that must be wound up every day.

  1. Pingback: Motivation | Reflections

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