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Managers, You Aren’t Responsible for An Employee’s Motivation

With all the chatter about employee engagement and its impact on productivity and retention, we know that employee motivation is a key issue at all levels of leadership.

But people who lead continue to make a fundamental mistake in this area: They believe and behave as if they are responsible for an employee's motivation.

Here’s a news flash: Motivation of an employee doesn’t come from the manager; it comes from within the employee.

Why is this so hard to grasp? One possible reason is we’ve established a cadre of leaders who think that visible action on their part is the primary way to lead—that you must do something or you won’t be viewed as a leader by those who are led.

The fact is we all motivate ourselves. The more important and useful function managers and leaders can serve is to encourage this inner self-motivation, and there are a number of ways to do this:

  1. Provide employees with work they find stimulating. When people aren’t stimulated by the work, they drop out of the game. Look for clues in their thinking preferences, paying attention to both their primary preferences, which typically are associated with the work they’ll most enjoy, and their areas of avoidance or lack of preference.
  2. Provide a work climate that allows this stimulating work to be performed in ways that satisfy and fulfill the employee. Don’t assume the way you would tackle the work is the best way for the employee. Create an environment where employees have a say and a stake in their own productivity and engagement.
  3. Provide incentives and rewards that supplement the self-actualization the employee is already experiencing. But remember, when it comes to rewards and incentives, one size doesn’t fit all.
  4. Provide the necessary tools, materials and support that allow the employee to optimize quality performance. Employees frequently have a better sense of how to get the tasks done in the most efficient, effective way. Give them the tools they need, and then…
  5. Get out of the way!

This surprisingly direct and simple process is founded on two human resource basics:

  1. Know your employees. Understand their thinking preferences, their expectations and their job needs.
  2. Understand the mental requirements of the work being done. This requires an investment in time, energy and skill to diagnose the work elements of the tasks to be performed and then construct a thinking profile of the job.

The next step in this process is exceedingly elementary in concept, but impossible to carry out if the preceding steps have not been rigorously performed. This next step is bringing the employee into alignment with the work. When the employee’s thinking preferences are well aligned with the mental demands of the job, they’ll be more productive and engaged, and their companies will benefit as a result. It’s a win-win all around.

Want to fuel your own inner self-motivation? Read more about job fit and alignment for greater work satisfaction in our post, Commencement Advice for Everyone.

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Tags: Middle Managers, Leadership Advice, Thinking Preferences, Whole Brain Manager

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