Managing People Using The Value Immersion Process
Motivational Techniques

CLASSICAL TECHNIQUES FOR MOTIVATING EMPLOYEES DON’T WORK

During my career as a manager at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography my most important job was to motivate people to do their best. In pursuit of that goal I tried all of the classical motivational techniques (money, public recognition, competition, participation, and teaming) but found them wanting.  These frustrations lead me to develop a new approach to motivating people: “Value Immersion”.  So, what are the problems with the classical approaches?

Most classical methods are based on preconceived notions of what really motivates people.  If misapplied, or not carefully used, they can have unintended consequences, not achieve the real goals, and sometimes actually become a de-motivating factor.

MONEY

Probably the most pervasive belief in management circles is that the best motivator of people is money, the almighty dollar.  In my view this is a myth.

In fact, my observation has been that money is a major de-motivator.  In most cases, for example, giving someone a raise will not cause them to work harder, but not giving one de-motivates them.

Don’t big bonuses, huge stock options, commissions, etc., really give people a very strong incentive to perform?  The answer is “possibly, but!”  If they are based on performance then objective measures, goals, or standards are needed.  But defining these can be challenging.  If standards are set two high, failure to reach them is a de-motivator.  If they are set to low, then there is no need for employees to do their best.  Also in a large percentage of organizations these objective measures do not exist.

Also, in many cases, as revealed during the 2008/09 financial meltdown, many bonuses are pre-negotiate and are awarded irrespective of performance and/or are tied to short term optimization at the expense of long-term success of the organization.

Money can attract a person to a job, but once on the job it will not get him to work any harder than he otherwise would.

PUBLIC RECOGNITION

This can take the form of “Employee of the Month,” “Employee of the Year,’ and/or a multitude of other similar types of recognition that can be called anything that sounds good.

Public recognition programs are fraught with problems, and can often backfire.

How is the “winner” identified?  In most cases the criteria or standards for selection are obscure so people don’t know what the have to do to receive the award.

Recognition often occurs long after the success being rewarded.  To be effective, recognition/reward must occur very close to the occurrence of the event being recognized.

Clearly a fundamental problem that pervades most variants of this approach is the potential for demoralization of those who do not receive awards.

In the end, none of public recognition programs I have observed achieve our overarching goal:  to get the absolute best from every employee.  Honestly, does anyone reading this believe that an entire group of people will work to do their absolute best so they can be “Employee of the Year?”  No way!

Employees who stand out are motivated by other factors.  They aren’t great because they want to get an award.  They do it because they want to, and doing their best generally makes them feel good, award or no award.  The positive value based approach I advocate creates an environment where people want to do their best.

COMPETITION

Another myth that pervades the management world is that competition is good and brings out the best in people.  My own experience is quite the opposite.

It may be true that in some activities, such as sports, competition does in fact motivate people to do their absolute best.  But, most organizations are not sports teams.

The goal is to motivate our employees to do the best job they can.  So, you might ask: “…why is competition a problem?”

In highly competitive environments people are so consumed with being successful that they lose all semblance of civility.  The competitive drive will cause people to do whatever they can to win.  Let’s be frank, they’ll cheat, lie, steal, take drugs, and/or engage in any other behavior they can think of to win, and quite often look for ways to reduce the performance of their competitors.    Thus, a tightly regulated environment must be created and enforced by a cadre of referees, as is the case in all sporting events.

When a highly competitive environment is set up in most organizations these regulations do not exist and even when they do, there are no referees to insure that the competition is fair. As a result the workplace environment is one where one’s success must come at the expense of others.

What I am describing, of course, is the inevitable result of a competitive working environment in normal organizations:  down and dirty office politics.

This type of work place environment generally results in substantially lower productivity because people spend a great deal of time plotting how to get the other guy, or they spend a great deal of time figuring out how to defend themselves from those who are, or are perceived to be, out to get them.

PARTICIPATION

Another cannon of management is that giving employees an opportunity to participate in decision-making is a strong motivator.  My experience has been that there is something to be said about that, but not a lot.

First and foremost, employee participation must be real and not patronizing.

Faked participation will be perceived by the people and will de-motivate them more than just about anything else.  It is belittling, and even insulting.

There are also occasions when you really should be seeking employee’s input.
Usually the people “in the trenches” really know how things are.  Often managers, especially lower level employees are involved, pretend to listen but don’t really take the advice seriously.  Then if the manager goes off and does something stupid, the employees lose respect for him and are less willing to give their all for him.

If you do sincerely seek people’s input, then you simply have to let them know that you heard it, took them seriously, and considered it.   Even if you decide contrary to the input they have given, they will feel good about it.

TEAMING

Management often thinks of creating teams as nirvana.  Well, as you may have guessed, I don’t think so.

Teaming works well in a non-competitive environment where there is a very specific task to be done – design a new wing for an airplane, for example.  Teams need a specific mission to which all of the participants can make an “observable” contribution.

The problem comes when managers attempt to artificially form a “team.”  What I am getting at is that managers often declare “WE ARE A TEAM.” when in fact we aren’t.  We are a group of units that only overlap in a minimal way.  Then people see it as a sham, a con, an attempt to get them excited about something that doesn’t, and cannot, exist.

Again, forcing this can be more of a de-motivator, than a motivator.

CONCLUSION

In this brief essay I commented on the most common myths about how to manage and motivate people.  None of the classical techniques described above accomplishes our goal of getting the best from people.

A new approach that does accomplish the goal of getting the best from people is described in my book “Value Immersion for Maximum Employee Performance: A Framework for Getting the Best From Your People.”  Value Immersion includes some of the best aspects of the motivational techniques discussed above, but goes well beyond by laying out a plan that creates the kind of workplace environment where people want to do their best.

For a more complete discussion of the problems with classical motivational techniques and for more information on the new Value Immersion motivational tool check, out my website:  valueimmersion.com.

Tom Collins
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