Leadership: Directions for Motivation

If you’ve ever been involved in a hiring decision, did you pay any special attention to the competencies and motivation of the applicants? We know that highly skilled and motivated employees will do more, do it better, and be around to do it longer. But have you given as much attention on how to maintain and/or improve employee motivation?

Motivation Defined
Before diving into those factors, I’ll explain what I mean by motivation: Motivation is an energy and passion to do something to either obtain rewards or avoid punishments. Using this definition, everyone is motivated, but the direction and focus of the motivation is what matters. For example, some teenagers spend hours perfecting their dexterity on video games. In this regard, they are highly motivated. However, the same kids have absolutely no motivation to wash dishes.

Why is Motivation Different for Each Person?
We are constantly inundated with choices on how to spend our time and energy. By choosing one way to spend your time, you are in essence choosing not to spend your time in other ways. For example, if I choose to go on a long run on Saturday morning, I am also making the choice not to eat breakfast with my family.

You can better determine which choice and effort a person makes by evaluating these three factors:

1) Performance Confidencecan I do it?

2) Reward Expectationswill I get something for doing it?

3) Perceived Valuehow do I value that reward?

As it applies to work motivation, when an employee believes they can perform their job duties, believes a result will come from their effort, and then values that result, they will be motivated. To the extent that any of these factors slips, then other choices may become more motivating (e.g., leaving work early).

Lead Driver
When explaining this concept to others, I like to use an analogy of a road trip where an employee is driving down a road — think of it as a career journey. Driving around familiar streets and neighborhoods is relatively easy, with known sources for moderately fun experiences. However, there is little growth, and the value is limited.

Conversely, taking an adventure to exotic and challenging terrains can yield new experiences and long-term rewards. However, “climbing the mountain” requires more effort and greater risk. This is where a leader can be most effective. Acting as a guide, she gives direction where uncertainty exists and provides support to boost confidence (Performance Confidence), gives signs of progress and keeps the destination in view (Reward Expectation), and ensures that the destination and rewards are important to all parties on the journey (Perceived Value).

The Leading Data
In a recent study of leadership style and employee engagement, we found a number of factors that differentiate effective leaders in terms of motivating their employees:

Employees of leaders who prefer order and structure have 15% higher Performance Confidence as compared to employees of leaders who prefer spontaneity.

Employees of leaders who hold themselves and others accountable have 20% higher Reward Expectations as compared to employees of leaders who make allowances for chance and personal misfortune.

Employees of leaders who are more accepting of employee emotions have 20% higher perceptions of Shared Values with the organization than employees of leaders who discourage personal expressions.

In other words, effective leaders will create environments that promote higher levels of employee motivation. While hiring high-potential individuals is a good start, keeping them at their peak requires paying attention to the factors that affect their motivation. Is there a map to high performance? Is there an obvious connection to reward and success? Are the outcomes personally valued and meaningful? Be aware that there is constant competition for your employees’ attention and that success comes when you can direct that attention to mutually beneficial and achievable outcomes.

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