Category Archives: Motivation

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 you know if you are doing a good job?”

As is often the case, many employees said they didn’t really know when their supervisor thought they were doing well. A few said they found out only in their annual performance review.

In one department, however, employee after employee told us that their department head believed in them even more than they believed in themselves.

She not only appreciated what they had done, they said. She continually expressed confidence in what they could do, encouraging them to take on and succeed at new projects.

And more than a few said that under her leadership, they had grown in ways they wouldn’t have thought were possible.

When we met this woman, it was immediately clear that she leveraged the power of encouragement to an unusual degree. In her view, the most fundamental role of leadership was “harvesting the talents of people.”

And in that light, she took it as her personal responsibility to find the strengths of her employees — even those still undeveloped — and value, encourage, and nurture those gifts.

Her approach was inspiring,  convincing, and refreshing. But it was effective as well: the difference between her department and others in the organization was night and day in terms of morale, enthusiasm, and commitment.

Results such as these should come as little surprise. We all appreciate having our potential acknowledged by others, particularly those we report to. And rare is the person who is indifferent to warm encouragement to stretch and take risks.

An important question for leaders to reflect on, then, is the degree to which they look beyond what employees have already done in the workplace, to find what they could do with appropriate encouragement, mentoring, trust, and support.

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 —… Continue Reading

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

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