Motivating your employees consistently is not easy that’s why most people try to compensate for their lack of ability by offering their employees larger and larger salaries. Don’ get me wrong you will not get away with not paying your employees a proper salary but the salary is only one of the reasons why people go to work
There are many theories of motivation Maslow, Herzberg, Mc Gregor, McClellan, and many many others and all of them are right but all of them only paint a part of the whole picture missing out large chunks, because the motivation of people is a lot more complex than a few sentences can convey and it has so many aspects that a whole book may not be enough but here I will try to convey to you an extract of a few of the theories and I will also rich on some of the things that these theories miss out.
First thing I will skip Maslow’s theory because I think its no longer relevant in business. And besides, I assume everyone has heard of it at some point. So let us jump straight to Herzberg because Herzberg is right well mostly right because there are things that the presence of which can only motivate and there are things that can only demotivate but he forgot about a very important grey area where the things can both motivate and demotivate
He is right in the fact that some things simply cannot motivate you to go to work let's take working conditions, for example, you would never wake up and think " I can't wait to get to work the office is so nice and clean and I can't wait to spend eight hours there" you would never say that you'd have to be out of your mind to say that. But you could think something like this" that office is filthy it's so disgusting " that's why working conditions can only demotivate and not motivate of course this does not excuse you for having a filthy office because it will demotivate your employees
This goes for a lot of the aspects of the Herzberg theory but what Herzberg misses out is that there is a grey area i.e. The this that can both motivate and demotivate you to work for example the salary or friendships. The salary, for example, motivates people to go into work because they are afraid of losing it because they are afraid that they will not be able to fulfil their needs but that's not the only way that the salary motivates people to go to work because the higher the salary the more luxuries the person can buy and therefore the can better fulfil their needs and wants. That’s part of why we sometimes call large salaries a set of golden handcuffs because the people who have such large salaries are so afraid to lose them that they stop trying to improve and never change jobs because if these people lost their big salaries then they would most likely be unable to find a new job with a comparative compensation and as a result then they would have to sell some of their assets like their home. None the less it is still a very useful theory, I think its the most useful one out of the whole lot.
Mcgregor is also right different people are motivated by different things in his theory X and theory Y he identifies two groups of people theory X is a pessimistic view of your employees and it states that employees will only do enough so that they don’t get fired, that they are not ambitious in any way and all their interested in is going home as soon as possible. It is also assumed that they dislike their work, avoid responsibility and need constant supervision. Theory X tells us that we have to constantly supervise, even threaten such people so that they do their work.
Whereas Theory Y gives us a completely different picture of employees as it says that employees like their work, they are ambitious, they take responsibility and they can be left to work by themselves with a large degree of autonomy this is a mirror reflection of theory X. but as we all know most employees do not fall directly into theory X or Y most employees fall somewhere between these two theories and that causes us some problems because how do you balance theory X and Y to find the right combination that will fit your employees if they cont fit into the theories. This theory is probably not the best one out there but the thing to take away from it is that your employees will never perfectly fit into any theory. What you should also take away from this is that people are different and what works on some of your employees doesn’t have to work on others because people are so varied in their nature that it’s basically impossible to make them fit into categories.
McClelland’s theory is a very interesting one because he outlines 3 main needs the need for achievement, need for power and the need for affiliation these the are interesting because they are actually quite accurate in allocating people to certain groups or at least better at allocating people to groups that the previous theories. After all, this theory focuses on what the certain person wants most, do they want to be in control, do they want to achieve great things or do they want to feel like they belong and fit in with dominant socio-cultural norms most people will be mostly focused on one of these things and that can be used when you are creating your motivation strategy because if you know what the person wants achievement power or belonging then you can motivate them in a way that will resonate with them. For example, if you have people who want to belong then it may be a good idea to give them a lot of group work and to use collectivist reward systems so that everybody is “the same” but for example, if you have people focused on achievement then you might want to motivate them by giving them more and more important work or if they are most focused on power and control then you might want to motivate them by giving them more and more responsibility.
There is also the expectancy theory which says that if we get what we expect to get then we will be happy and another theory the name of which I can’t remember of the top of my head which says that we are only happy if we are doing just as bad or as good as our co-workers it says that it's all about ratios and that it doesn't matter if you get a rise as long as the other person gets the same
In my opinion, all of these theories are great but motivating people is not as simple as dividing them up into groups and then applying a methodological approach to all of them, People are human beings and as has been proven in the past people don’t do well with dividing into groups. People are simply too diverse for anyone to be able to divide them into any meaningful groups. That’s why when you are trying to motivate people these theories help but they do not solve the problem. If you want to solve the problem then you have to go outside the books you have to experiment see what works what doesn’t and you have to implement all of these theories all at once because they all have merit but they all excel at one thing and fail at another so if you want to get a clear picture you have to integrate them all and a lot of common sense.
But even if you implement all of these theories you will still be missing a lot of pieces and one of the most important pieces that are not covered by any of these theories is YOU yes your behaviour as a team leader or manager is probably one of the most important aspects of motivation because if you are a jerk then not many people will be willing to work with you but if you are a good leader yourself then leading motivating people will become a lot easier. This is not an article about being a great leader but if you want to become better then you should read Dale Carnegie “How to win friends and influence people” its one of the best book on the subject. Just read it.
These theories try to analyse what motivates people to work but what they miss out is the why. Because let’s say, someone volunteers, to go and teach children in a rural African village why do they do that? What needs does it satisfy? Such an action is not explained by these theories of motivation so we have to add another reason altruism and legacy. Of course, we can argue whether giving money to charity is really altruism or is it just you want the feeling of having done something selfless more than you want that money ( yeah economics and utility maximisation is very grim ) but that doesn’t change the fact that these actions are not explained by current motivation theories. but if you remember that people generally want to be remembered they want to do good and because we have emotions and a conscience, if you keep that in mind make it easy for people to do good and show them how doing their job is good for other people then it will be easier to keep people motivated because it satisfies their emotional need to do good things.
You may ask why I don’t just give you a formula for what you should do step by step to motivate people. I will not give you such a formula because such a formula doesn’t exist and it would not work for you because people are so different and the situations that they are in are so different that a single universal formula is not possible that’s why you have to do it yourself.
You have to find a way to motivate your employees, you have to pick and match from all the theories and find the combination that suits your employees but take those theories with a pinch of salt and apply a lot of common sense. You will also have to think outside the box because there is a lot that you could do if you just discard the current standards. Down below I will list a couple of books you might want to read improve your understanding of how to motivate people and become better at it