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What Can A Manager do to Create the Conditions that Motivate?

Six techniques have a predictable effect on increasing an individual’s motivation:

1. Create opportunities for achievement and accomplishment.

2. Allow people freedom, discretion, and autonomy in doing the job.

3. Provide opportunities for learning and growth.

4. Increase the amount of challenge.

5. Make sure that the work itself is inherently capable of motivation.

6. Provide recognition.

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Create opportunities for achievement and accomplishment. Is the job worth doing? Can the individual do anything to be proud of, or is it just the same old, same old? The classic example of increasing opportunities for achievement involved Emery Air Freight’s success in increasing the use of containers to consolidate several small packages into one large container.

The company’s stated goal was 95 percent utilization of containers and, while it was not precisely measured, the assumption on the part of most managers and employees was that the 95 percent goal was being achieved regularly.

One day Ed Feeney, an Emery senior manager, actually audited the operation to see what percentage of shipments that could be consolidated into single containers actually were. He was astounded at the result. Instead of 95 percent of the goal, the operation was achieving only 45 percent.

Feeney corrected the problem by providing feedback to each individual dockworker about his actual level of performance. He accomplished this by creating a simple form that required the dockworker to write the name of the shipper for each item, to note whether or not each package being processed met the requirements to be consolidated, and to indicate whether or not it actually was consolidated into a larger container. At the end of the shift, the dockworker calculated the actual percentage of those packages that were containerized against those that should have been containerized and turned the form over to his foreman. When this form was introduced nationwide, the overnight result was an increase in containerization from a national average of 45 percent to 95 percent. Not only did Emery dramatically increase its effectiveness, but the dockworkers and supervisors were given an excellent opportunity for genuine achievement.

Allow people freedom, discretion, and autonomy in doing the job. How much say do people have in deciding how they perform their jobs? Do they have any discretion or are the procedures completely specified? Can an individual exercise good judgment, or does policy dictate everything? Are employees permitted to use common sense, or is any variation from standard operating procedures punished? A commonly reported motivational factor is the ability to operate independently, to think for oneself. Let’s look at how a manager can increase the amount of discretion that a job provides.

All jobs are done in one of three different modes. Some parts of the job are done in the ‘‘do’’ mode. In this mode the individual has total authority—he doesn’t have to get anyone’s permission in advance; she isn’t required to let her boss know what she’s done. The individual is entirely free to act and get the job done any way he wants.

The second mode in which jobs are done is ‘‘do/report.’’ The individual is fully free to act, but must let the boss know afterward what was done and how it went.

Finally, there’s the ‘‘check/do/report’’ mode. Here the individual has no autonomy. Before acting, the employee must first get the boss’s approval (or run it by the committee, or check with the rest of the team). Then the person can do what needs to be done, but then must report—fill out a transaction summary form, include it on the weekly report, review the transaction with the supervisor.

Figure displays the three modes in which jobs are done. There is something disturbing about the way this triangle has been drawn. As it stands, it represents a very sick job. Can you see why?

The reason is that the way the triangle is portrayed above, the huge majority of tasks fall into the check/do/report area—the part of the job where the individual has the least amount of discretion. A smaller number of tasks fall into the do/report portion of the triangle.

Finally, the smallest area of all is the one in which the individual has the greatest amount of autonomy: Do.

The job of the manager who wants to increase the amount of motivation people feel is to turn the triangle around; to rotate it so that the largest part of the job is in the area where the person has the most authority and the smallest part where the individual has the least amount of say in how the job is done. Figure illustrates the way the triangle ideally should look.

How does a manager go about rotating the triangle? Start with those tasks or assignments that you routinely ask a staff member to check in with you before he undertakes the task. If you routinely approve the recommended action, this task is a good candidate for moving up from the check/do/report mode to the do/report mode. You might say, ‘‘Harry, from now on, every time a customer exception request comes in, you can just handle it by yourself . . . you don’t have to run your plan for responding to it by me any more. Of course, I’ll always be available to review anything that you think is unusual, but from now on you can take care of this without checking with me.’’ Congratulations! You have just increased the amount of authority in Harry’s job.

Next, identify those assignments or activities that you regularly ask your staff members to report on to you. Look for where you routinely take no action based on their reports. Those are the candidates to move from a do/report mode to the do mode. You might say, ‘‘Louise, in the past I have always asked you to let me know as soon as you’ve closed out a major client record account. You won’t have to advise me of that anymore—you know what you’re doing and I’ve got confidence in your ability to do it right. Let me know of any accounts that are unusual, but the rest of them you can handle 100 percent by yourself.’’ Again, the amount of authority in Louise’s job has just been increased.

Increase the amount of challenge. When people are asked to identify the job that produced the greatest feelings of motivation or job satisfaction, one of the most frequent factors they reported is that the job provided a genuine challenge.

Where should a manager look for ways in which to increase the challenge quotient of a subordinate’s job? The answer is, look to your own job.

Visualize your job as a silo. At the very top of the silo are those tasks and responsibilities that only you can do. Only you have the knowledge, the capability, the insights, and the talents to do these things at the very top of your silo. They are the ones that demand the highest talents you have . . . the ones that justify the big bucks you’re getting paid.

In the middle of the silo are those tasks and activities that are genuinely important, but that you have under firm control. They may have been highly challenging at some time in the past, but today, even though their importance remains high, you do them without a great deal of difficulty.

Finally, there are those things at the bottom of the silo—the scut work that shows up in everyone’s job. All of us have to fill out expense reports; no one is exempt from writing the weekly report; everybody has to take part in the fire drill. Undemanding and unchallenging, they still need to be done.

Now think about your subordinate’s job. It too can be represented as a silo, just like yours. But as Figure 3-4 indicates, those items and responsibilities at the top of your subordinate’s silo aren’t as high as yours. Their tasks, assignments, and job requirements aren’t as demanding as the ones at the top of your silo. But notice that there’s no difference at the bottom of the silo. Scut work is scut work, and it doesn’t matter whether it’s done by the hospital’s CEO or the guy who washes the bedpans.

Here’s how to increase the opportunities for achievement in a subordinate’s job. Find one of the tasks in the upper half of your silo and move it over to your subordinate, as shown in Figure .

Look at the diagram and answer this question: What has just happened to the importance of the task? The answer is, of course, nothing. The task has neither increased nor decreased in importance. The importance of the task is unchanged.

What has changed is the composition of the two silos. The subordinate now has been given a very high-level, challenging responsibility— and for most people, challenging jobs are motivating jobs. The manager has also benefited. By delegating an important responsibility to a subordinate, you not only increase the amount of challenge and the chances for real achievement in your subordinate’s job, you have also freed yourself to spend more time on those responsibilities that only you have the capability to perform. The name we use for this process is delegation.

But a couple things go wrong when managers attempt to delegate. First, they may become enamored of the idea of delegation and try to delegate a task at the very top of their silo—one that is beyond the subordinate’s current capability to succeed at. In this case the subordinate fails and the delegation process gets a bad reputation.

The opposite problem shows up when a manager delegates a responsibility at the bottom of his silo. If a task has no motivational value for you, it’s not going to have much motivational value for anybody else. The classic example is the manager who says, ‘‘Sam, you did such a good job of washing the dishes, I’m going to let you wash the silverware, too!’’ Washing dishes, washing silverware, there’s no challenge involved here.

The biggest problem with using delegation as a motivational device is that managers simply don’t get the motivational benefits that delegation can provide. They part only with those responsibilities that they’re glad to be rid of and hold tightly to the most enjoyable parts of their jobs. For example, the manager who prides herself on her ability to placate an irate customer will actively seek out irate customers to placate.

Since she is able to do this demanding task skillfully, and since she gains a great deal of personal satisfaction from doing so, it’s unlikely that she will turn the responsibility for dealing with troubled customers over to any of her subordinates who desperately need to learn the skills that she has acquired. Two unfortunate consequences result from this kind of behavior. First, talented subordinates are likely to be dissatisfied and unmotivated, since they don’t get to do the challenging part of the job and have their learning opportunities constricted. Just as bad, the manager is unlikely to be promoted to a better job, since her seniors are likely to say, ‘‘Well, we certainly can’t take Sally out of that post. Nobody else in the company is able to deal with irates as well as she does. We need her there!’’