It motivates the workforce to do what, exactly?

As managers we will be asked to play a part in the application of company endorsed motivational techniques.

We might be asked to improve motivation by:

  • Holding annual performance reviews
  • Applying and setting incentive payments/bonuses
  • Cracking the whip, pointing out poor performance
  • Setting aspirational goals and KPI’s

When considering any motivational technique, it is important to ask-

“It motivates the workforce to do what, exactly?”

When we say someone is motivated, we’re not being very specific. Of course, the implicit assumption is that the staff member is motivated to be a great employee. But is that really what the above motivational techniques achieve? No, not exactly.

For each technique above, the staff are motivated to do something.

To illustrate the point, let’s look at one of the cornerstones of human resource management, the annual performance review. What does it motivate staff to do?

An annual performance review motivates staff to get a good review, or at least, to avoid a bad one. It does not necessarily follow that this will lead improved employee performance across the year.

If you think creatively, it is easy to build a large list of actions that are at odds with being a  great employee, yet assist a good performance review.

For example, staff that are motivated to get good reviews will tend towards setting easily achievable goals.  They will be inclined to (and are even rewarded for) hiding poor performance and mistakes from their manager.

As a performance review is often relative to other team members, staff may be motivated to hoard information from their colleagues, or withhold help, to further their own individual success.

Staff may notice that if they slack off when the manager is away, it doesn’t get noticed and has no impact on the performance review. They may decide that all they need to do is look good when management are around.

This is taking it too far, surely? People don’t normally do these things! It would be morally wrong to do so!

And this is true, but there is a big caveat. All that stops them from doing any or all of these things are their morals, their varying intrinsic need for achievement, and a belief that the performance review is fair and equitable.

It is on this last point, that I want you to stop and ponder.

Is your performance review really fair and equitable? Would your staff members agree that it is? Or would they say that it’s a bit subjective and can feel unfair at times?

Perhaps then, it’s not such as stretch that your staff might, at some level, employ these tactics?

These problems are endemic with any form of reward and punishment motivational technique. Part of the problem arises from the fact that these techniques are extrinsic motivational techniques, that is, we are trying to get the person to do something that they would otherwise not want to do.

So what is a manager to do?

The traditional approach would involve being aware of these negative actions, and trying your best to not reward them.

The modern method? Reduce the importance of any ‘stick and carrot’ approach, and focus more on techniques that help to build and support the intrinsic motivation of your staff.  Much harder for us managers to do, but if the text books and numerous studies are to be believed, much more effective.

More generally, when thinking about a motivational strategy in the workplace, remember to ask yourself – it motivates the workforce to do what?

Comments? Thoughts? Hit me up below!

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2 thoughts on “It motivates the workforce to do what, exactly?

  1. Pingback: Victor Vroom’s Expectancy Theory |

  2. Pingback: Alfie Kohn’s 6 Reasons Why Incentives Cannot Work |

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