By Dr. Arnie Witchel


Copyright 2003

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†††† Do you sometimes notice that when you try to motivate your employees, it lasts for a day or a week until the excitement or emotion wears off? Thatís because motivation is often confused with excitement. However, motivation isnít about getting employees excited at all. In fact, itís just the opposite. Motivation occurs when we have some kind of tension that prompts us to reduce it by fulfilling unmet needs. Joe may be excited about a new sales campaign, but until he views it as an opportunity to fulfill some unmet needs (either through more money, promotional opportunities, etc.) he wonít be motivated to continue with it. Similarly, since we all have different needs, what motivates is as unique as the person we are attempting to motivate. That is why this quote from an anonymous source is so revealing: ďA leader cannot invent motivation, he can only unlock it.Ē

†††† In their book, The Belief System, by Dr. Merwyn Hayes and Thad Green (1993) discuss how to diagnose employeesí motivational problems. These problems occur because some level of expectancy or belief isnít being met. In fact, to be motivated, an employee has to have three separate beliefs: 1) That I can perform at the level that is expected of me; 2) That there are outcomes that are tied to my performance; 3) That the outcomes are something that is satisfying to me that I want. Letís examine these three beliefs in a little more detail.


†††† Have you ever been given a task for which you are ill prepared and despaired about getting it done? Sally has been given the task of having the office budget prepared by Tuesday. She got the job because Ethel quit last week and took the budget with her. Sally has never done an office budget before, has no template to work with, and vaguely recalls that Ethel usually spent about a month working on the budget. Will Sally be motivated to complete the job? Probably not, because she has doubts about performing at the expected level. We also see this in kids who are constantly told they are stupid, or can never do anything right. When challenged, is their belief that they can get the job done going to hold up? High motivation results from believing I can do the job; low motivation stems from the belief that I canít do the job.


†††† Chris and Charlie have been working for the same company for about four years. Chris comes in to work at 7:30AM, Charlie shows up, if lucky, by 9:30AM. Chris always volunteers for projects, while Charlie makes sure that he looks the other way when projects are handed out. Chris usually leaves around 5:30PM, while Charlie has been known to sneak out the door at 4:30PM, if possible. Itís generally known that Chris does about 20% more work than Charlie. At raise time, they both get the ďcompany guidelineĒ of 4%. Will Chris be motivated to continue his great work ethic? Will Charlie be motivated to do more than he is already doing? The chances are slim on both counts because the outcome is not tied to performance. Managers who donít reward the outcomes and vary the reward according to performance run the risk of destroying the motivational process by violating the second belief. If I donít believe that the outcome is directly linked to my performance (regardless if the outcome is positive or negative), I will undoubtedly be less motivated to give the outcome that is required. High motivation comes from believing that the outcomes that I will receive are directly linked to my performance; low motivation results from not believing that what I get is directly tied to my performance.


†††† John is a sales manager for a medium sized company. He has put together what he thinks is a great prize for a sales contest: A weekís vacation to Kauai, all expenses paid. A week into the contest he notices that his top salesperson isnít even trying to win the contest. Disconcerted, he calls Jane in. ďWhy arenít you even trying?Ē he asks. Jane replies, ďI own a condo in Kauai. I go there all the time.ĒThis event, based on a true story, points out the importance of individualizing rewards. If the reward isnít important to the individual, they will not be motivated to try to attain it.

†††† Notice in this example that the reward really wasnít about money. Not everyone is motivated by money. Some are motivated by recognition, while others are motivated by achievement, the opportunity to do things in a group, or by power or growth opportunities (although, donít forget money!). High motivation comes from the belief that what I get from my efforts will be satisfying to me; low motivation is a result of not believing that what I will receive after all my effort will be satisfying.


†††† If you are faced with a motivational problem with an employee, or with a group, the first step in solving the problem may very well be in finding out what belief the employee is having difficulty with. Is it that they donít believe they can do the job? Is it that you havenít directly linked outcomes with the effort required and the level of outcomes (reward) wonít correspond to the job they do? Or is it that they donít believe the effort will lead to a reward/conclusion that satisfies them? Asking these three simple questions can help you to very well figure out why an employee just doesnít seem motivated anymore, and offer an approach to get them motivated in a more lasting mode than just exciting them. There may not be pat answers to motivation, but the best managers recognize individual differences, match employees to jobs they can (and want to) do, use goals, individualize rewards, and ensure the reward system is equitable.


†††† Green, T., & Hayes, M. (1993). The belief system. The secret to motivation and improved performance. Winston-Salem, NC: Beechwood Press.

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