Category Archives: Motivation

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 tour of an 800-person plant manufacturing transmission assemblies for 18-wheel tractor-trailers. The machinery was huge and awe-inspiringly complex. But the manager’s remarks focused on a newly-adopted manufacturing process and the voluminous documentation it required.

Coming across a worker filling out some of theses charts and spreadsheets, the manager asked why so much paperwork necessary. The man spoke of things like ensuring quality and increasing efficiency, and the manager agreed. But there was more than that, he said.

“The reason we track these statistics,” he said, “the real reason we do all this stuff is that someday some trucker is going to be tearing through the panhandle of Texas at 2:30 in the morning, trying his best to make a delivery on time.

“He’s going to be tired and alone, and whether he knows it or not, he will be trusting us to give him a transmission that won’t break down. He’ll be depending on us for his livelihood and his safety, and we can’t let him down. He’s the reason we fill out these forms every day—because it’s our duty to take care of him and everyone like him.”

These words, far from a mere motivational speech or rousing pep talk, sought to invest an otherwise mundane task with purpose and significance. With just a handful of sentences, this manager offered an alternative – and and far more compelling – vision of one employees work, by placing routine duties within a context of profound meaning.

The importance of this should not be underestimated, for we all seek meaning in life. We all want to further something larger than ourselves. And when given the chance to do so, we will work committedly to advance an endeavor that we see as being of personal significance to ourselves.

Unfortunatley meaning is in distressingly short supply in many workplaces. And while employees with no sense of purpose in their work may well still follow directions, will still lift what they are told to lift and file what they are told to file, few will go much beyond that. Few will spontaneously give of themselves in those ways that make the difference between mediocrity and excellence.

Warren Bennis once that wrote that without meaning, labor is time stolen from us. And no one wants to work for someone who is stealing from them. Leaders that hope to create a workforce filled with investment, motivation, and ownership, then, have no choice but to find ways to suffuse their workplace with meaning.

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

Appreciating What Employees Do and *Can* Do

Recognizing employees’ efforts is critical to building workplace morale  and motivation. But it can also play an important role in building new skills and capacities. We once surveyed a software development firm in Nebraska. Meeting with a cross section of staff members, we asked a range of open-ended questions, one of which was, “How do… Continue Reading

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