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How do I Motivate People to Deliver Good Performance and to Correct Performance Problems?

The first responsibility of a manager in the performance execution phase is to create the conditions that motivate. The second is to eliminate performance problems. We’ll devote all of Building Performance Excellence  to the methods and techniques that work when you’re confronted with unacceptable performance. Solving people problems, however, is the unusual and infrequent occurrence. Far more common is the need to motivate people to deliver all the good efforts of which they are capable.

Motivation is internal. We cannot ourselves motivate anyone to do anything that the person does not want to do. We can force, we can coerce, we can bully and intimidate, but we can’t motivate another person. We can only create the conditions that result in internal motivation.

It’s not a cop-out, however, for a manager to say that she can’t do anything to motivate her troops. The motivation of her troops is very dependent on whether she actually creates the conditions that lead to motivation.

Given the constant barrage of pep talks and posters, slogans, free advice, and exhortation on the topic of motivation, there should certainly be a couple of core principles of motivation that predictably work with every person, every time. Aren’t there? Or are we stuck with the notion that everybody’s an individual, and what’s a turn-on for Sally is likely to be a turn-off for Sam?

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Rather than speculate about motivation, where it comes from, and how to apply it, let’s gather some empirical data. Think back through all the jobs you’ve ever had. Bring to mind the job you had that produced the greatest feelings of motivation in you. It doesn’t matter what the job was—it might be the job you have right now; it might be a job you had earlier in your career; it could even be a part-time job you had in high school.

It makes no difference. It also makes no difference what the word motivation means to you. However you choose to define the term is fine. Call it job satisfaction, or excitement, or enthusiasm, or a turn-on. Simply bring to mind the job that you had when you were the most motivated/satisfied/turned on.

Now that you have that high-motivation job clearly in mind, quickly jot down the factors that caused you to feel so motivated, satisfied, or turned on. If you’re like most normal people, the factors you’ll list are highly predictable—as are the ones that won’t make your list.

On your list will appear such items as opportunities for achievement, recognition for that achievement, freedom and autonomy, challenge, the chance to learn and grow, and the work itself. What will be missing? You won’t write down such important items as job security, benefits, working conditions, the quality of supervision, and the organization’s policies and procedures.

It turns out that the missing link in understanding motivation is the realization that there are two different factors at work. On the one hand there are the things that motivate us, that turn us on, that generate satisfaction. On the other are those things that dissatisfy us, turn us off, demotivate us. Psychologist Fred Herzberg stated it best: Job satisfaction and job dissatisfaction are not flip sides of the same coin. They are entirely different coins, and the wise manager uses that insight to his or her advantage.

In short: The absence of job satisfaction is not dissatisfaction; it’s simply no job satisfaction.

This is not semantic sleight-of-hand. If you eliminate all of the dissatisfiers from a job, you don’t produce a worker who’s happy. All you generate is somebody who mumbles, ‘‘Gee, I guess I don’t have much to bitch about.’’ This is hardly the sound of a motivated worker.

There are two separate variables at work, and if you really want a motivated workforce you have to attack on both fronts—providing satisfiers and eliminating dissatisfiers—simultaneously. 

What the figure indicates is that it is possible to be both highly satisfied and highly dissatisfied simultaneously. A person can be both turned on and turned off by the same job at the same time. If the individual receives stingy benefits and labors under unsafe working conditions; if she has unpleasant interactions with her coworkers; if he serves under a nasty my-way-or-the-highway boss; if the company’s policies are niggardly and job security is tenuous; then there will be much dissatisfaction among the troops. But curing all of these distasteful conditions will not generate a cadre of turned-on high performers. It will simply eliminate all of the complaining. If people didn’t like what they were doing before, they won’t like it any more, even though their working conditions have improved. If the job was boring and pointless previously, granting a few extra weeks of vacation or running all the bosses through sensitivity training won’t make it challenging and appealing.

A good working definition of motivation is this: Motivation represents a measurable increase in both job satisfaction and productivity. The motivated worker does his job better and likes it more than those folks who are not so motivated. What truly motivates people is the first set of factors mentioned: opportunities for achievement and accomplishment, recognition, learning and growth, discretion, and worthwhile work. Those are the items that generate strong feelings of loyalty, satisfaction, enthusiasm, and all those other things we want to see in those whose paychecks we sign.

Hot Tip

You can’t get away with working exclusively on the satisfiers’ scale. You have to make sure that you clean up the job environment to reduce or eliminate those things that cause people to be unhappy and quit.