The Science of Motivation

by | Mar 13, 2016 | Inspiration, Leadership

The need for motivation can be traced back to generations that lived before us.Far back in the late 1930s, Elton Mayo carried out an experiment on the shop floor of Western Electric’s Hawthorne plant in New Jersey, USA. In his research, he tried to demonstrate that better workplace hygiene would have a direct and positive effect on workers productivity. So when he turned up the lights, productivity went up, as predicted.Then, as he prepared to turn his attention to another factor, he routinely turned the lights back down. Productivity went up again! The crucial point here is that the simple act of paying attention to people has a great deal to do with productivity.

It is important for leaders to understand how to motivate their teams because studies have shown that better-motivated teams deliver more than those that are poorly motivated. I recently read about the Japanese ‘people’ approach to the manufacturing of cars. They have a workforce that is turned on…willing to work…excited about making cars (In search for excellence by Thomas Peter and Robert Waterman Jr.).

There are shreds of evidence to prove that money may not be the best way to motivate desirable behaviours. As a matter of fact, it may be one of the worst ways. For instance, a survey by Development Dimensions International published in the UK Times newspaper in 2004 interviewed 1,000 staff from companies employing more than 500 workers and found many to be bored, lacking commitment and looking for a new job. Pay actually came fifth in the reasons people gave for leaving their jobs. The main reasons were,  lack of stimulus jobs and no opportunity for advancement. 43% left for better promotion chances, 28% for more challenging work. 23% for a more exciting place to work and 21% and more varied work.

This blog will highlight some of those things that effective leaders could use to motivate people over and above money. Please do not get me wrong, money is certainly important as a personal driver but possessing and spending it is not enough to sustain the human spirit.In various organisations, money is better at attracting and retaining people rather than influencing their behaviours. So let’s see what works better than money.

To start with, attention to people is crucial. A leader must give be willing to give undivided attention to the people they serve. Top leading global organisations pay attention to their people. They talk about and honour the innovations of their employees.

Secondly, the need for people to belong to a group is a great motivator. People wants to belong to a group that create meanings to their world. Through these groups, they satisfy their hunger for social connections and informal interactions.

Curiously, there is another part of us that sticks out.That is our purpose for living! The need to make an impact and leave a legacy in the world. Everyone wants to build something that is lasting.This is critical since it is the innate desire of every human being to be significant in life.  Leaders who know how to tap into this human cravings will be able to influence people. Some organisations now allow employees to support charities or nonprofits of their choice in workplaces. This would enable them to fulfil their yearnings to belong to a cause that is greater than them.

The need for autonomy is another reason why people are motivated. This is the desire to steer our own ship. People get fulfilment from executing their own decisions without a lot of rules or oversight.It is that deep-seated desire to direct our own lives. Google taps “autonomy” by encouraging their employees to devote 20% of their work time into projects of their own design.

Moreover, people get motivated by the need to elevate their status.In most cases, it is the informal praises and small wins that lift people up not the annual results. This individual recognition improves performance and builds commitment.

Most importantly, we have the desire for mastery.This is another intrinsic motivator that makes people do what they do well.It is the strong feeling by people to steer their ship very well. This is the passion to extend and expand our abilities.Tony Hsieh, the CEO of Zappos emphasises mastery by making the pursuit of growth and learning paramount to his corporate philosophy.

The science of motivation shows that the secret to high performance is not money or other external rewards but the intangible drive of people to give their life meanings, expand their abilities and fill their lives with purpose. This is what leaders must look for in order to take people to where they need to be.

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