Why Motivation Works

When it comes to motivating people, my view is that all people who come to work want to do a good job, and what we need to do is find a way for them to be able to do that.

And if we can, then they will be highly motivated, as we all like to be successful.

When I say this, people often question me, challenging that assumption, often saying it’s not true, some people who come to work are just not interested in doing a good job.

To me that is just a cop out, that’s leaders blaming poor leadership on the people they are trying to lead, rather than accepting their responsibility as a leader.

Not only is does this belief come from my experience, but also if you study Abraham Maslow, an American Psychologist, and especially his work on Motivation, which is best depicted, in my opinion, by his Hierarchy of Needs, as shown in the chart below.

From this chart we can see that we all have a need for Self Esteem and that this is achieved through Achievement, Recognition and Respect, and so supports the view that everyone who comes to work wants to do a good job, as this will allow them to fulfil that need, providing we put them in a position to be successful and recognise that success.

This is the job of the leader. Our role is to put our team and staff into a position where they can be successful, and then we need to reward and recognise that achievement. We can also improve the fulfilment of this need by showing respect to our teams.

I was giving a presentation last week and one of the topics covered was operational performance improvement, and at the end in the Q&A session one of the questions I was asked was how often do you have to make personnel changes in order to improve the performance.

My answer seemed to come as a surprise when I told them that very rarely did I have to make staffing changes. More often than not what I needed to do was to change the teams focus, provide them with clearer direction, the right tools and support to do the job, and then once I had done that, then the team were successful.

Too often leaders, bad leaders that is, look to blame the quality of their staff for the poor performance, rather than the circumstances that they find themselves in. No one comes to work wanting to do a bad job. It’s soul destroying to work 8hrs a day, 5 days a week in a job where there is little or no success. Everyone wants to have a taste of success now and then, as according to Maslow, it helps fulfil one of our most basic needs.

So the next time you have a team that are under performing, before you look to blame them for the poor performance check to see whether or not they have clear direction and the right tools to do the job. I am confident, based on my experience, that this is where you will find the issue, rather than with the team itself.

Once you fix these issues, not only will this motivate the team as you will have improved their probability of success, but you will have also increased their respect for you as a leader as you clearly understand what your role is.

Gordon Tredgold

Leadership Principles