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The surprising science of motivating employees

Published Date: 2018-02-13 | Source: Simply Financial Services | Author: Simply

The surprising science of motivating employees

The organisation is a fascinating entity, and in many ways a miraculous one. To round up a group of individuals, each with their own biases, backgrounds and idiosyncrasies, and to get them to work together as one unified force is an astonishing feat. The major benefit of this arrangement, and the reason that organisations have been naturally forming for hundreds of years, is that, in an efficient operation, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. It's like taking a host of different-sized, different-shaped pieces and turning them into a car. Humans tend to get more, and higher quality, work done when they join efforts. When things are going well they become synchronised, and work as a single organism - that's partly why companies are regarded as independent legal entities. But, when things aren't going well, the whole fractures into an assortment of ineffective parts, and the car starts to break down.

In his outstanding book Reinventing Organizations, Frederic Laloux traces the history of organisations, and considers the evolution of organisational management. One of the themes in this history is the way in which people have been viewed and approached in order to tease the best work out of them. From the hierarchical structure of the early Catholic Church, military and traditional public school system, to the modern incentive-driven corporate business, motivation has evolved from The Stick to The Carrot, to a combination of both. For most of us this approach is so familiar that it seems unthinkable to question it's efficacy, but it appears that's exactly what we should be doing.

Career analyst, Dan Pink, has spent a lot of time studying motivation, and his conclusions range from surprising to shocking. As part of his research, Pink cites examples of social science studies performed at MIT and Princeton indicating that the traditional carrot-and-stick motivational paradigm doesn't work. He goes on to reference the ways in which these results have been replicated repeatedly for more than 40 years. The entire premise of modern motivation (rewarding positive results and penalising negative results) is called into question but the data that shows this system only works well for tasks that require mechanical skill. Except for a few outliers, most people who are required to use cognitive skill in their jobs do not respond well to this motivational method over time.

What works instead? Autonomy, or the desire to determine your own way; Mastery, or the yearning to keep getting better at something that we love; and Purpose, the sense that our work brings something into the world that is more important than just us. Weaving these fundamentals into the management and motivation of your business or team represents a far more human-centred approach, built on identifying individuals' unique orientations and giving them space to shine. It also requires managers and business owners to understand their employees better, to get to know their needs and desires. It might sound a bit woo-woo to some, but the science shows it works.


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