For centuries, emperors, princes, generals, presidents, captains of industry, and managers have been grappling with the same issue: how do I motivate my people? Clearly we’ve come along way from the motivate-by-fear approach favoured by Machiavelli and his sixteenth-century devotees. Nowadays, many managers use the carrot rather than the stick: salary increases, bonuses, free holidays – the list goes on but is this approach more sophisticated than that used in the past? In reality, leaders have switched from one blunt instrument – fear – to another: money no doubt, everyone likes to be well compensated. In our Experience, compensation only goes so far. people expect a fair and appropriate level of compensation for the work they do, but money is rarely, if ever, the difference maker when an employee comes to work in the morning and decides whether to work hard or not. In the U.S., Princeton economist Angus Deaton and Psychologist Daniel Kahneman wrote a paper that attached afigure to the limitations of money as a motivator: us$ 75,000 a year.ii the authors concluded that monetary compensation has a positive impact on emotional wellbeing, up to a point.beyond a us$ 75,000 salary, the positive impact of additional earnings diminishes. Not only is this an interesting piece of research, it is telling for leaders around the world. If you are managing people, you need to think beyond material benefits because they seldom make a great deal of difference to your employees’ wellbeing.the first step to moving beyond napoleon, henry Ford, and the motivators of a bygone era is a simple one, but most managers are embarrassed to admit they’ve never done it: ask your employees what they think would help to motivate them.
The most fundamental principal of employee motivation is to understand that people are already motivated. They could be motivated to achieve the organization’s goals, to impress their boss, to get one over on a colleague, or to do as little as possible. The goal for managers is to get people motivated in the right direction. In our experience, most managers use themselves as the template when motivating others. I love wine, so who wouldn’t want a bottle of wine as a gift? Our favourite story involved a young lady who reported to us that her manager had arranged a free vacation for her in Bali. The manager was incredulous that her employee was not overwhelmed with excitement about a trip to Bali but the manager failed to realize that the lady had two young children to take care of, not to mention the fact the she had no interest in going to Bali but her manager loved it there!
It is quite natural for us all to use ourselves as a template in this way, but we should not be surprised when it fails to motivate employees. It will work with some – those who share our interests and motivators – but it can go very wrong with others. Sometimes quiet, sincere word of appreciation in the office might be the perfect form of appreciation for some people.
(excerpt from the Integro Leadership Report “Why won’t they just do what they’re told?”. 2011)