The Sharpening Stone – Igniting Motivation

A common question we get from our clients is, “How can I motivate my employees?”

When we’re talking about motivation, we’re not merely concerned with getting people to do what you want them to do. You can produce that kind of movement or behavior change by applying various extrinsic incentives … perks, bonuses, or even threats that might stimulate people to behave in ways that you want them to.

That’s all important and relevant to effective management. But today we’re not so interested in the external forces you might apply to produce desired behaviors– That’s your fire burning or your generator doing the work.

With motivation, it’s about enabling your people to stoke their own fires. You’re merely activating their internalgenerators.  As a leader, what can you do so that your people will want to work harder, so they’ll take pride in tackling challenging work, so they’ll seek increased responsibility and take ownership of their performance?

Frederick Herzberg, one of the most influential researchers in the study of management, addressed this very question.

He argued you can help employees charge themselves up by applying some basic principles to enrich their jobs, like:

  • Assigning people specialized tasks that allow them to become experts
  • Increasing individuals’ accountability for their work by eliminating some controls
  • Giving people responsibility for a complete process or unit of work, with a clear start and end point
  • Making information directly available to people rather than sending it through their supervisors first
  • Granting additional authority and freedom
  • And finally, enabling people to take on new, more challenging tasks that they have not handled before

So for example on that last principle, maybe you have some new project in need of a leader.  Fight the reflex of assigning it to someone from that same group of leaders you already put in charge of everything else important.  Ask yourself instead if there might be a sharp person, perhaps at the next level down, who might be ready for a new and challenging assignment.

Put any one of these principles in action and you’re likely to ignite motivation in others.

Let me add a safety tip: Don’t do any of this around combustible materials … you might cause a fire.

About the Author: Rob Skacel, Ph.D.

Rob is a licensed psychologist with senior executive experience. He holds a Bachelor’s degree from Franklin & Marshall College, and Master’s and Doctoral degrees from Purdue University. Rob began his career in the field of clinical psychology, splitting his time between patient care and management responsibilities. Within a few years, he began the transition to business psychology specialization. He has since held senior leadership positions in sizeable for-profit and non-profit organizations, where his responsibilities focused on performance improvement and organizational development.

Rob founded True Edge Performance Solutions in 2000, and maintained it as a part-time venture for a number of years as he continued to accrue executive experience. By 2006, True Edge had grown to the point where it required Rob’s full-time attention. Over the years, Rob has provided services to dozens of leaders and their organizations, in a variety of industry sectors such as manufacturing, professional services, health care, agribusiness, construction, education, non-profit, and trade associations.

The Sharpening Stone

The Sharpening Stone is a series of short videos from True Edge designed to sharpen leaders and their organizations.

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