Category Archives: Motivation

Recognition, Thanks, and Motivation

The link between recognition and motivation in the workplace are clear. We need only look to our own experience — the pride we felt when our work was praised by an appreciative supervisor, the improvement in our outlook when we were sincerely thanked for the grunt work we do month in and month out — to understand how the one leads to the other.

But in spite of the fact that it stands a free, immediately implementable, and constantly available source of employee motivation, recognition is sadly lacking in the workplace.

The toll of such oversight is heavy, in both organizational and human terms. One of the executives of a steel corporation in eastern Pennsylvania, for example, one told us that when he was first hired as the foreman of one of the foundries, he was receiving performance reviews on all employees on a regular basis.

He noticed one day that a certain long-time employee had been doing particularly good work the past several weeks. Wanting to encourage such performance, he called the man over the next time he saw him, and said he had noticed his efforts and wanted to thank him for everything he was doing for the organization.

In recounting the story to us later, the executive noted that the worker stood well over six feet tall and weighed upwards of 250 pounds, with not an ounce of fat on him. He was a hard man through and through, and not someone looking for charity from anyone.

But as he stood in the heat of the foundry floor that day, tears began to stream down his face. “I’m sorry,” he said with obvious embarrassment. “It’s just that I’ve worked here for seventeen years, and this is the first time anyone has ever thanked me for something I’ve done.”

That the contributions of countless human beings, from foundry workers and waitresses to managers and vice-presidents, go unrecognized and unthanked for weeks or even years at a time is simply a reality of the world today. It may seem morally acceptable to you, or it may not. But feelings of propriety aside, wholesale disregard of the dynamics of effective human interaction has tangible, bottom line consequences on organizational performance.

All across the nation, workers do their jobs in the absence of any meaningful sense of gratitude from their organization, and many do them well. But the potential they might otherwise be able achieve is squandered day after day after day. For people will never give their all for an organization that takes their efforts for granted.

This might be good enough for some leaders. They  might believe that nothing more is possible, or simply be content with employees who will, most of the time, do what they are told.  But mere compliance will never suffice as a foundation for true excellence. Distinction will never be built on a workforce simply clocking in, clocking out, and collecting their paychecks.

Vision: The Emotional Connection

Much is said today about the role of vision in the workplace. Unfortunately vision is often approached primarily as a tool to be wielded or tactic to be deployed – a mechanistic and relatively superficial understanding unsuited to the task of  capturing employees’ imagination, enthusiasm, dedication, and commitment. A client once took us on a… Continue Reading

Capturing the Human Spirit

Many employees are cynical, apathetic, disillusioned with their work. This is a sad truth of the workplace. What is also true, though, is that none of us want to feel that way about our employment. We would all rather be motivated than unmotivated, rather be fired up about the work we do than indifferent. Given… Continue Reading

Creating Motivation? Or Creating Conditions Conducive to Motivation?

Countless leaders have wrestled with the issues of motivation. How do I motivate this or that employee? How do I increase collective motivation throughout my office, department, or organization? These questions address important workplace realities. But are the foundations of such inquiry sound? Do leaders actually motivate employees at all? Research has suggested that a… Continue Reading

What Motivates People? (3 of 3)

Previously this series examined those environmental factors that most led to motivation and inhibited it. These might seem like two sides of the same coin, but there are indications that the two are less intertwined than one might guess. Research conducted by Frederick Herzberg suggested that, rather than opposing ends of the same spectrum, they… Continue Reading

What Motivates People? (2 of 3)

We previously explored research that Frederick Herzberg did on primary sources of workplace motivation —  things like achievement, recognition, work itself, responsibility, and growth and development. These findings are valuable in themselves, but Herzberg didn’t stop there. He also asked employees to describe times they had been particularly dissatisfied, uninterested, and unengaged in their work.… Continue Reading

What Motivates People? (1 of 3)

Motivation is a central workplace concern. Countless leaders ponder what stimulates it, how can it be sustained, how is it destroyed. Luckily such questions caught the attention of Frederick Herzberg, an American psychologist who became one of the foremost authorities on business management. Herzberg explored the issue of motivation through hundreds of in-depth, open-ended interviews.… Continue Reading

Motivation, Culture and “Bad Attitude” Employees

Almost nothing is more frequently lamented in management circles than “bad attitude” employees, those people it seems nothing can be done with. It’s true that few workplace dynamics are harder to address than antagonism, apathy and hostility. But rarely mentioned is the role that sincere and well-meaning leaders can play in creating such “bad attitude”… Continue Reading

Employees, Donkeys, and Getting Things Done

In some ways, motivation is less complicated than one might imagine. Involving people in decisions that impact them, recognizing the value of their contributions, giving them opportunities to assume responsibility in meaningful ways — study after study has shown the importance of factors like these. Yet countless workplaces fail to supply such sources of motivation.… Continue Reading

Capturing the Human Spirit

Leadership is a 100 percent human undertaking. Systems are populated by people. Policies are embraced or rejected by people. Plans are enacted or ignored by people.  And because of this, effective leadership hinges on a leader’s ability to access the talent, enhance the capacity, and develop the potential of people. But what are these human… Continue Reading

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