Organisational Insights

Leadership Series (Part 1) Motivating Employees

Organisational success & employee happiness – can both be achieved?

In a word…Yes!

The first question to answer is: Can a leader actually motivate others?

Yes and no!

Research tells us that motivation has to come from within, each of us is motivated by different things both intrinsic and extrinsic. Much like personality, another person no matter how effective as a leader can’t actually change another’s personality. Nor can a leader press a button and magically motivate their team, wouldn’t that be great!

But we can, with insightful leadership, set up the context, factors, and situations that have a significant positive impact on employee’s motivation to perform well.

We know that employee motivation is directly related to performance, so how then, as leaders can we have a positive impact on our employee’s level of motivation?
Part One – An Introduction to Inner Work Life – A Modern Day Motivational Theory
Drawing on 30 years of research Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer (2011) “The progress principle: using small wins to ignite joy, engagement, and creativity at work” outline what Inner Work Life is and how capable leaders can positively impact their employees level of motivation with the resulting improvement in productivity.

They outline three components that leaders need to have an understanding of;

1. Emotions

Research tells us that emotions can have a significant impact on performance both negative and positive in nature. Savvy leaders are understanding more just how important the area of emotion is in the workplace.

It is widely understood that there are multi-levels of emotional activity within the workplace.

Ashkanasy (2003) developed the five-level model of emotions in organisations;

  • within-person (an individuals moods and behaviours)
  • between persons (trait affectivity – positive and negative characteristics)
  • interpersonal interactions (emotional exchanges, displayed versus felt emotions)
  • groups (leader-follower, social relations, the joys of comradery and cooperation, political relations, the sadness and envy of hierarchy)
  • organisation wide (emotional climate, organisational culture, policies, stresses).

I am concentrating on the group level of emotion where the leader and employee interact in order to achieve the organisational objectives. We know from practical experience as well as from research that highly prized employee traits of;

  • creativity
  • decision making
  • negotiation

….are work behaviours directly impacted by emotions. When an employee’s motivation is high the likelihood of their ability to solve problems using greater flexibility and persistence is evident.

So emotions are crucial to organisational outcomes yet can be difficult for leaders to understand let along read correctly in their people.

One strategy that has considerable support is in ensuring work and tasks are meaningful. When employees feel they are doing work that is meaningful both to them and to the organisation, and that the work is progressing or moving forward, they gain a high sense of satisfaction. This translates into internal or intrinsic rewards of meaningfulness, a valued contributor, both powerful motivators.

Therefore, as impactful leaders, we can get to know what intrinsic factors motivate each employee and this combined with ensuring we are offering work and tasks that have an important meaning to the end game (which brings us to the topic of communication – for another day!), we can use this knowledge in setting the scene for our teams to be motivated.

2. Perceptions

Perceptions involve our thoughts and cognitions and can range from an initial first impression to a fully thought out theory regarding what is happening and what it means to us. Every person interprets happenings and events around them based on their own individual ‘backstories’ in life and the organisation.

The image above depicts this well, one symbol meaning so many different things to different people.

So how can a leader possibly work this out in each team member?

Amabile and Kramer (2011) discuss the occurrence of ‘backstory’ used when an actor is provided with a ‘scenario’ around their character. They argue it is just as appropriate in the workplace as every employee possesses an accumulation of experiences that they have developed in their own unique way.

Leaders need to understand this is different for each person and will have an impact on how they perceive events, statements and situations which ultimately informs what motivates them.

Communication comes to mind as one of the most powerful tools in a leader’s remit in order to find out more about an employee’s perceptions or their backstory. Lots of questions combined with active listening can move mountains in discovering what really motivates each person in the workplace.

3. Motivators

Motivation is all about an individual’s drive to get something done or to achieve a certain thing. We know that Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs in his Theory of Motivation delineated between lower order and higher order needs where the lower order needs of safety, food and shelter and money being more hygiene factors than motivators.

I guess it depends on where we are as individuals in our life situation but on the face of it if we are talking about employees in the workplace, it seems to follow that money is not a major motivator, certainly a dissatisfier if it is not met, what are stronger motivators are those intrinsic needs such as self esteem, the feeling of being valued and belonging and self actualisation at the very top – perhaps the nirvana for most of us.

This supports one of the major tenements of the Work Life Theory, that meaningful work is a strong positive motivator, that sense of progress of one moving forward in their life. A very powerful motivator indeed.

Inner Work Life theory of motivation builds on Maslow’s theory stating that for a person to be motivated it is a combination of a person’s choice to do a task, their desire to put the effort in and finally, the drive to persist. This seems to fit with the need for a sense of belonging.

So how can a leader achieve this? Again, as with emotion and perception discussed above, understanding what intrinsically motivates each employee is essential in this quest.

I hope you enjoyed the information and will sign up to get the full Leadership Series to arrive in your inbox monthly! Topics to be covered include – Transformational Leadership, Organisational Design (Holacracy vs Traditional), Leading Millennials & Gen Z and much more.

Cheryl McCormack, Director & Business Solutions Consultant

Next Edition – Motivation (Part 2) High Performance

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