Motivation Theory: Turning Research to Your Advantage in Management|
What is motivation really?
Have you ever noticed that you or someone you know walks into work more motivated to go the extra mile during the first few months than a year into it? The challenge and excitement becomes tainted into frustration and dissatisfaction? A study by Sirota Survey Intelligence (http://sirota.com), a survey research firm, found that the average employee motivation level is 83% in the first year on the job. By the time one or two years rolls around, it goes down on average to 79% and continues to decline through the fifth year (which many of us Gen Y’ers don’t even get to!) So this begs the question, how do we, as leaders in our organizations, keep ourselves and other people motivated like it was the first day on the job?
First we have to define what motivation is. There are many definitions, but it all boils down to the what gets us moving in a goal oriented way. This, when combined with our abilities and skills, produces our behaviors. So, let’s say I have the skills to make a great Excel spreadsheet and I have a strong ability to perform this task, but I have no desire to make the effort – ahem, I mean that never happens…who doesn’t love spreadsheets? ;) Without the effort, though, my skills and abilities are irrelevant; motivation is essential to performance in any sort of task.
How does this apply to us?
As eager developing women leaders, it’s essential that we not only understand how motivation works and what difference it makes but we also need to know how to achieve and influence it. If we can become more aware of what motivates (and de-motivates) our peers, our subordinates, and ourselves we can become empowered to create a better work environment. This knowledge can help mold us into effective and compassionate leaders.
There are several theories about motivation, all with distinct approaches. For now, let’s focus on one: Needs Theories. This starts way back in the day with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Anyone remember this snazzy pyramid? Essentially, Maslow states that people go through stages of needs that start with physiological needs like food and water and, if they get there, up to self-actualization needs, to become the best version of yourself. Since Maslow’s “A Theory of Human Motivation” in 1943, researchers have revisited and redefined the stages in needs theory. The most noteworthy are two researchers, Edward L. Deci and Richard M. Ryan, who developed the most empirically supported needs theory called the Self-Determination Theory. This theory states that for people to have high intrinsic motivation and to grow to their fullest potential, they need three psychological needs met: autonomy, competence and relatedness.
Autonomy: the degree to which one owns their behavior and is endorsed at the highest level of reflection. Do you have a choice when it comes to you work? Is your job meeting your growth needs?
Competence: The degree we feel effective, efficient and proficient in our environment. Do you feel that you are good at your job? Do you feel a sense of expertise in your work?
Relatedness: The degree we feel connected to and understood/appreciated by others. Do you have relationships with others at work? Do you give and receive recognition?
Exploring and Reflecting
As I reflect back on past experiences at work, I can think of many times I felt high levels of relatedness and competence but little autonomy. Even with the support of colleagues and the skills and abilities to get the work done, being micromanaged and pigeonholed into narrow roles (low autonomy) really impacted my motivation. Each of these components has an equally important role in maintaining intrinsic motivation.
As you digest this theory of motivation, here’s some food for thought:
- Have you ever been upset when you don’t get a complete task at work, but instead get a segment of a project?
- Do you ever feel micromanaged?
- Do you feel challenged and competent in your work?
- Are there people at work that you enjoy spending time with?
- Do people at work ever give you appreciation or recognition?
If you’re a manager:
- Do you assign your staff full tasks or at least keep them informed about the bigger picture?
- Do you actively work with your staff on their professional development needs/goals?
- Do you make sure you assign work based on your staff’s strengths so they can feel accomplished in their work?
- Do you encourage teamwork?
- Do you allow your staff the time and the space to connect with one another?
So, does this theory resonate with you? Does it shift how you look at your work or the work of others? How do you think employers should go about creating a motivating environment that meets these needs?