Want Better Employee Motivation? Check Your Motives

“Whatever you dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it.” Goethe

I’ll never forget the young man who was engaged to the daughter of a business owner. The business owner said, “Welcome to our family. And to show you you’re part of the family, I’m making you half owner of this business. Just go to the factory and every day, work as hard as you can, and learn how this business works.”

The young man replied, “I hate factories. They’re dirty, smelly, and hot.”

The owner said, “Okay, just go to the office; look over the paperwork, and make sure everything is being done right.”

The young man responded even more strongly, “I hate offices. I hate paperwork, and I can’t stand being behind a desk all day.”

Of course the owner was taken aback. He said, “I just made you half owner of the business, but you can’t stand factories, and you can’t stand offices. What am I going to do with you?”

The young man replied, “Buy me out.”

The business owner was certainly generous, but he didn’t know much about leadership. And he didn’t know what motivated the best in others. That’s why I spend the entire second day of my PEAK PERFORMANCE BOOT CAMP focused on those topics. I absolutely know that you can motivate others — given the right skills and strategies. Let’s go over four of those strategies right now.

=> 1. Demand Excellence.

Excellence shows you care. The easy teacher or laissez-faire manager conveys the message that the organization is not worth caring about–and neither are the people. As Superintendent of Schools, Bill Honig says, “Kids respect courage. They say ‘If you don’t make me do it, you don’t care about me’.”

Of course, if you demand excellence, if you refuse to sanction incompetence, if you enforce high standards, you will be temporarily disliked. So be it. While doing a program with Lou Holtz, the great football coach, he said, “If you desperately need people to like you, you’ll never have their respect.” You must be willing to tell people when they do not meet the standards. You must be willing to correct people’s mistakes. You must demand excellence.

=> 2. Build Self-Esteem.

The reason is simple. Everything that a person does is consistent with his/her self-image. Researcher A. W. Combs says, “The maintenance and enhancement of the perceived self are the motives behind all behaviors.”
In other words, a man who sees himself as unable to understand technical matters will go to great lengths to prove himself right. A woman who sees herself as a great mediator will find opportunities to exhibit that skill.

As a motivator, that means you must find ways to help people see themselves in a more positive light. Reflect back the good you see. Let people know you believe in them and their potential. Build people up because no one follows a negative leader for very long.

=> 3. Use Consistency.

People have a tremendous need to appear consistent. Once a person has made a choice or taken a stand, he will do almost anything to behave consistently with that decision.

For example, social scientists Jonathan Freedman and Scott Fraser had an individual go door-to-door asking homeowners to put a large ugly billboard on their lawn that said, “Drive Carefully.” About 90% refused.

Then they tried a different approach. They had the individual ask different homeowners if they would display a small three-inch sign with the same message. It was such a small request that most everyone agreed to do so. Two weeks later, when the same people were asked to display the large ugly billboard, most were willing to do that as well.

If you’re going to motivate others, this research has tremendous significance. It means that you don’t have to change everyone’s attitudes. You don’t have to change everyone’s behavior all at once. All you have to do is get people to do some little things that move them in the direction of the ultimate goal. And then let the drive for consistency kick in. People will be motivated to take more and more action steps that get you to your ultimate goal.

=> 4. Fail Creatively.

Some people think that great motivators must have a life of unbridled success. Or at the very least, they must hide their failures. Not so. It is much more inspiring to have the reputation of a risk taker who has lost a few battles but continues to fight with as much energy as ever.

Teach your followers that failure is not fatal. And failure is not final. A wise parent teaches her children to learn from their mistakes, rather than quit. And a truly motivating leader teaches the same lesson.

Unfortunately, some organizations don’t seem to understand this. They severely reprimand employees who make mistakes. Charles Knight, CEO of Emerson Electric, when asked for the sign of a great motivator, said: “You need the ability to fail. I’m amazed at the number of organizations that set up an environment where they do not permit their people to be wrong. You cannot innovate unless you are willing to accept some mistakes.”

Most people want to get better at motivating others, and wise people even study the subject. In the long run, however, no techniques, no matter how clever, can conceal the motives in your heart. The right motives are more important than the right moves. If you keep the best interests of your people in mind, it will show in your actions time and time again.

Action:  Think of one little thing you can ask your people to do this week. Choose one thing that will move you, your team, or your organization closer to your overall goal. Then ask them to do another small thing the following week that is in line with the first thing they did. Keep on using the “consistency” approach as you build momentum toward your ultimate goal.