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Motivate Your Team To Top Performance

For many years in the mid 20th century, it was believed that the key to improving the contributions of workers was motivation. Motivating people - what you need to do to get others to do what you want - became the holy grail of management.

The motivational psychologist, Victor Vroom, studied 500 companies in search of one universal theory of motivation. But to no avail. Nobody, it seems, knows precisely what motivates people and what doesn't. Nevertheless, much of our management of people relies on motivational techniques of one sort or another. Here are the top 7 in use today.

1. Carrot And Stick. The most basic form of human motivation is pleasure and pain. We seek those courses of action that we believe will result in pleasure and avoid those that we believe will end in pain.

This simple instinctive theory suggests why many average performers dislike the thought of change. They believe it will be uncomfortable, require too much effort and involve painful self-awareness.

The "carrot and stick" is the practical application of the instinctive theory of pleasure and pain. In these cases, we are offered the prospect of something pleasurable as a carrot (money, praise, kind words, a happy workplace, security...) and the prospect of something painful as a stick (loss of money, loss of job, bad feelings, unhappiness, a dismal cv, a poor reference...)

2. Money. F.W. Taylor and the early management theorists were in no doubt that money was the only true motivator. Their simple management theories were built around the concept that, to get a person to perform and continue to perform, you only needed to pay him enough. Taylor proved this by showing how people responded to incentive schemes.

But money is not a simple motivator. Its motivational effects may last only a short time and when it is given disproportionately and unfairly or in place of things people would rather have, it may even act as a disincentive.

3. Recognition. Recognition and non-recognition are the emotional equivalents of the carrot and the stick: recognition of ourselves and our work makes us feel good; non-recognition and being taken for granted makes us feel bad.

While seeking their own theory of motivation, a team of psychologists led by Elton Mayo carried out a series of experiments at the GEC Hawthorne plant in Chicago in the 1930's.

In one renowned study, they experimented with different levels of lighting. To their amazement, productivity went up when conditions deteriorated. The experimenters concluded that it was their own presence and the recognition given by them to the workers that made all the difference to how well people worked.

4. Meeting Our Needs. Needs motivation theory argues that we are more motivated by what we don't yet have and need, than what we do have and no longer need. This is the motivation that drives both rich and poor to work: the rich, perhaps, to meet a need for achievement, the poor to meet a need to survive.

Psychologist Abraham Maslow identified five recurring and ever-present needs that motivate us...
the need for basic requirements such as money and what money can buy
the need for security, both psychological and real
the need for social contact
the need for recognition from others
the need for self-fulfilment.

5. Goal Motivation. Research shows that goals which are clear, specific and reachable produce a higher level of motivation than goals which are vague, unspecific and out of reach. Desired goals that are just outside our reach have an almost magnetic effect on us. Research by Leavitt and Mueller found that when a group was given specific goals, 62% of the targets were met as against only 27% when the goals were not specified. Motivational goals need to be more than specific: they should also be ones that people feel strongly about, should be worthwhile and should fit in with other things that the person wants.

6. Meaningfulness. When people see little or no connection between what they do and why they are doing it, there is usually a low level of motivation. People are merely going through the motions. This can happen when there is distance between the producers and consumers. Bridging the gap through information, education and feedback can turn meaninglessness into meaningfulness. Wyatt describes how during the Second World War the output of British armament factories rose by three times after the factory workers met and spoke to the air crews who were to use their products.

7. Personal Motivators. Personal motivators are those things that fire up individuals and are always more powerful than using standard motivators, such as money and status. Good managers recognise the value of finding out the things people want to do because they want to do them. Here are the top 9 things that people will do without too much effort on your part:
the chance to excel at something
the chance to work with others
the chance to do something high-profile
the chance to be creative
the chance to do research
the chance to serve others
the chance to do new and exciting things
the chance to take charge
the chance to do things in our own way.

"The more I want to do something, the less I call it work." (Richard Bach)

While there is no single, simple theory of motivation that works in every case with everybody, you can still use these 7 theories as the basis of working with different members of your team and produce the productivity results – and more – that your team are capable of.

About the Author: © Eric Garner,

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