In simple terms, motivation can be broken down into 3 main types.
Fear Fear of failure, punishment etc
Incentive Rewards (financial or other)
Attitude Motivation from within (your attitude towards something)
The first two are short term and external and, in the long term, will never motivate people in a positive way. Yes, even incentives loose the power to motivate.
However motivation is a lot more complicated than this.
Susan Fowler, in her book “Why Motivating People Doesn’t Work…and What Does”, makes the point that we are motivated all the time. Whatever we do, even it is nothing, we are motivated to do it, or not do it.
So if people are always motivated then why all the talk about motivating staff and how can we do it. How do we get them to act in the best interest of the company?
The key to this dilemma is to ask WHY people are motivated to act as they do. What is motivating them?
The issue we then need to concentrate on is, how do we change a person’s motivation and not how we motivate them. Remember that we are always motivated in one way or another. The three types of motivation I mentioned above are still relevant, with the first two being sub-optimal (carrot and stick) and the third one being optimal. Susan Fowler expands these into 6 motivational types, but I will not go into these here.
Essentially people are looking for 3 things from their work. 1) Autonomy – control over what they do, 2) Relatedness – a feeling of belonging and 3) Competence – the knowledge they are doing a good job.
If a person is motivated to do a particular job because they fear they may be fired if they don’t do it properly, then it is likely that they will only do enough to avoid the punishment but will not give the job their best attention and effort.
If, however, they are motivated because they believe it will give them a sense of autonomy, relatedness and competence (i.e. what they are doing is for the good of the company and themselves) then they are much more likely to do the job to the best of their ability and in the best interests of the company.
It is beyond the scope of this short blog to cover all the aspects of motivation but I do believe that if you take the time to understand WHY your staff are motivated, you will have a greater chance of being able to change their motivation, leading to a more efficient business and ultimately greater profits.
I am not suggesting that there is no place for incentives or policies and procedures that must be adhered to, but these should not be seen or used as prime motivators.
People motivated from within will ALWAYS be more productive and effective than those motivated externally.