The Boss Show

Workplace wisdom with heart and humor

March 9, 2011

Motivation: The End of Bribes and Threats

By adminwpa

Okay, let’s say I’m your boss. I’d bet that for the right price – let’s say, a $100 weekly bonus – I can get you to show up for every meeting this week absolutely on time. Or I could take the opposite tack. I’d bet that I can also turn you into Punctual Patty if every time you show up late for a meeting, I assign you the important task of cleaning the office toilet.

This is how we think about motivation: We take the obvious fact that you can get someone to do stuff with the right bribe or the right threat – and we generalize it into a motivational strategy.

Here’s the problem: if I define motivation as “getting people to do stuff” (which bribes and threats do really well), then every time I want you to do stuff, I have to “apply” the bribe or the threat. If I ever stop, you’ll start showing up late for meetings again.

Obviously, that’s not sustainable. And when you think about it, not very humane, either. “Getting them to do stuff” (with bribes and threats) is how we control puppies and small children. Hmmm… how many of my employees want to be treated the same way I treat my dog? And what does it to do our relationship when I do?

So what is sustainable motivation if not getting people to do stuff? How about getting people to want to do stuff? Because if they want to do it, the motivation lives inside them, instead of in the $100 bills or the Lysol. I don’t have to micromanage anymore.

And as an added bonus, I get to move from being controlling to being empowering.

Now, getting people to want to do things. Oh, easier said than done, you say? Well, sure, it’s a lot harder to figure out how to help someone be more satisfied in their work than it is to offer them money or the toilet brush. But it’s the only thing that really works. And I mean really works – when people become more satisfied at work, productivity goes up. So does creativity, teamwork, initiative, positive attitude, responsibility, accountability … somebody stop me.

Once I know all that, I can’t go back to getting people to do stuff. I have no choice but to do everything I can to create the conditions for people to find more satisfaction in their work. That’s motivation.

Only problem is, in order to do that, I might actually have to get to know my employees as people. Eeeww!


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