When it comes to finding ways for motivating employees, there are a lot of great business books on the market. Right now I’m reading Why Motivating People Doesn’t Work…and What Does: The New Science of Leading, Energizing, and Engaging by consultant Susan Fowler. The book serves as a good reminder that managers aren’t tapping into their employees’ basic drives:

  1. Autonomy
  2. Relatedness
  3. Competence

Goldilocks Management

What works for motivating employees? How can managers create a sense of autonomy for people when there are so many performance requirements?

  1. Autonomy

“Autonomy is our human need to perceive we have choices. It is our need to feel that what we are doing is of our own volition. It is our perception that we are the source of our actions.” ~ Susan Fowler

As adults, we never lose our need for autonomy. Productivity significantly increases for blue-collar workers in manufacturing plants when they are given the ability to stop the line. So does the productivity of white-collar workers in major investment banks who report a high sense of autonomy.

But when managers become too involved in coaching, encouraging and pushing people to be productive, they can actually undermine perceived autonomy. It’s a fine line that requires Goldilocks management: just the right amount.

Of course, as a manager you are challenged to be sensitive to how much attention is over-managing vs. how much is not enough. This requires motivational conversations with individuals.

The second key element you’ll need to become sensitive to is the degree of relatedness provided for individuals. Some need more; other less.

  1. Relatedness

Relatedness is defined as our need to care about, and be cared for, by others. “It is our need to feel connected to others without concerns about ulterior motives,” Fowler notes. “It is our need to feel that we are contributing to something greater than ourselves.”

In 1924, Western Electric conducted one of the first studies on workplace behaviors at Hawthorne Works, a plant located just outside of Chicago. Researchers found that workers were more productive when they knew they were being observed and were included in social interactions. George Elton Mayo described this as a positive emotional effect stemming from workers’ awareness of a sympathetic, interested observer.

We are social animals. When offered opportunities to work together, as in teams, our engagement and productivity increase. We thrive on connection. Think about it: We spend an enormous percentage of our time at work, getting ready for work, preparing for meetings and presentations, and thinking about what we’re going to say or do. Some experts estimate we spend 75 percent of our waking hours focused on work. If our relationship needs go unmet at work, we’re unlikely to compensate outside the workplace.

Leaders have enormous opportunities to help their people find meaning in workplace interpersonal experiences. If you make the mistake of applying pressure to perform without regarding how people feel, they’ll likely interpret your actions as self-serving. This never works. Your staff will instead disconnect and disengage.

What’s been your challenge with motivating people? You can contact me here or on LinkedIn.