Mark Craemer 1 Comment

Despite the preponderance of best-selling books on dieting, smoking cessation and breaking other addictions, the truth about all motivation is that it is not about techniques, but about personal will. True motivation comes from deciding you are ready to take responsibility for managing yourself and doing something about it.

Similarly, in the work environment, motivating employees cannot come from management techniques, but from the employees themselves.

So the question should not be how can you motivate your employees, but how can you create the conditions where employees will motivate themselves? The answer is to foster an environment that enables them to assume responsibility and provide them with choice.

But let’s back up a bit. The age-old rewards or ultimatums for obtaining desired behavior has limitations. No matter whether it is in trying to get your six-year-old to practice the piano or seeking to make an employee more productive, carrot and stick approaches have proven not to be effective over the long run.

Psychologist Harry Harlow, in his pioneering work with rhesus monkeys, used the term “intrinsic motivation” to explain why monkeys solved problems without a tangible reward at stake. In the same way, he theorized that all children are intrinsically motivated to learn. As human beings, we are curious creatures and pursue knowledge and problem-solving out of our own pleasure in doing so.

Somehow many of us lose our intrinsic motivation by choosing career paths that are not aligned with who we are. Following a line of work based on others’ expectations or based on high financial rewards can backfire in providing us with a satisfying life. Money has, in fact, been demonstrated to actually undermine intrinsic motivation.

All of us need to take responsibility for our intrinsic motivation—both in our personal lives as well as our work lives. The motivation we have for doing anything is ultimately linked to this personal responsibility.

Author Ken Blanchard, in the “The One Minute Manager” series of books, talks about the need for every employee to determine whether direction and/or support is necessary and then make this clearly known to his or her boss. Only in this way, can a boss fully understand what is required to help the employee succeed. This is the employee’s responsibility and a key component to motivation in the workplace.

Self-motivation is at the heart of all responsibility, creativity, healthy behavior, and lasting change, according to psychologist Edward L. Deci.

In his book, “Why We Do What We Do: The Dynamics of Personal Autonomy,” Deci suggests that for intrinsic motivation to succeed in the workplace, it comes down to providing autonomy in place of control. A controlling atmosphere means employees will feel stifled and lack motivation to produce optimally. On the other hand, by giving an employee the choice on how to do his or her job, intrinsic motivation is more likely to occur.

As a manager, this requires taking an autonomy supportive position, which is a personal orientation you can choose to take toward other people, especially those in a one-down position. An example of a one-down position could be between a manager and employee or between a parent and child.

An autonomy supportive position requires being able to take another person’s perspective. You need to be able to grasp what it is like to be your employee, in your company, this particular community and this industry. This is a skill to be learned and it can require not only time, but also self-discipline to master.

Here are six tips to keep in mind to foster a favorable environment for employee motivation:

  1. Demand personal responsibility. Make each employee accountable in their respective roles and expect them to communicate what is necessary to succeed.
  2. Provide choice. Set objectives and let the employee decide how and what to do in order to reach these objectives.
  3. Set autonomy-supportive limits. Ensure each employee understands why something is important and the parameters around it.
  4. Set goals and evaluate performance. This helps maintain motivation because people behave when they expect they can attain goals.
  5. Recognize and award everyone. Rather than pit individuals and workgroups against each other in a competition, recognize each group or individual for their most important accomplishment or improvement.
  6. Overcome obstacles. Controlling personalities and lack of skills can be obstacles to autonomy-supportive behavior. Managers may require skills training and need to also see autonomy-supportive behavior coming from above.

Research by Richard Ryan and Edward Deci found that autonomy supportive managers have workers who were more trusting of the corporation, less concerned about pay and benefits, and displayed higher level of satisfaction and morale.

Further research found that people who are autonomy-oriented have higher self-esteem and are more self-actualized. People high on the autonomy orientation have more positive mental health and report more satisfied with their interpersonal relationships. Ultimately, through their behavior and expectations, people can influence their environments to provide them with more of what they need.

Employees need to feel competent and autonomous for intrinsic motivation to be maintained. And it is important to remember that it is only their perception of competence and autonomy that matters for intrinsic motivation.

This combination of employee responsibility and employer choice enables a healthy environment where intrinsic motivation can foster. And intrinsic motivation is the key to employee motivation.

Mark Craemer  

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