Stop trying to motivate | Corporate Culture | Six and a Half Consulting
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Stop trying to motivate

Stop trying to motivate

If you’re a business owner, executive or anyone with direct reports, you’ve undoubtedly wondered how you can get the most out of your team members.

I’ll save you the dozens of hours of reading the best leadership books out there and the hundreds of dollars associated with their purchase with this summary: you can’t motivate anyone.

Decades of behavioural science has proven time and time again that for most 21st century jobs — ones that require creative problem solving and that are non-repetitive in function — external motivators (things like bonuses or an extra vacation days) don’t create engagement and certainly don’t motivate.  And when, according to Gallup, upwards of $3,400 per $10,000 in salary (per employee!) are wasted to disengagement in 70% of North American companies, not understanding the true ingredients to motivation is a very costly problem.

Intrinsic Motivation

After employees are paid a market wage for their services, an extra dollar in salary won’t entice them to work any harder (at least those with non-repetitive, problem solving jobs).  In fact, no external motivators will.  Instead, they must rely on intrinsic motivators.  Your job as a manager, in turn, is to provide the ingredients –all six and a half of them —  for this intrinsic motivation to flourish.

Shared Purpose: A Shared Understanding of ‘Why’

Why does your organization exist? What value does it bring to the world? And how can members of your organization lend their unique skills to this shared common purpose? Having these statements clearly articulated (and subsequently lived) will drive is the fundamental underpinning of intrinsic motivation, and has rippling effects on everything from a company’s branding, to employee recruitment and retention, and ultimately profits.

Emotional Intelligent (EQ) Leadership: The Art of Persuasion and Influence

Emotional Intelligence, the second pillar of an intrinsically motivated workplace, is the ability to be aware of, in control of, and expressive of one’s emotions. It is also the ability to respond to interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically. Not surprisingly, it is one of the most crucial aspects of human interactions, and perhaps one of the least practiced in the workplace. Knowing how to adjust and respond to the needs of those around us is paramount to all human exchanges, not least of which in the workplace. 

Healthy Conflict: The Source of Innovation

Conflict is a part of life, both in and out of the office. Most people, however, view conflict one of two ways: either something to be avoided at all costs or an all or nothing, winner-take-all battle. Conflict, however, does not have to be a four-letter word. And when done right, conflict can become a powerful source of innovation and creativity.  

Transparent Communication: The Bond of Thriving Corporate Cultures

Research says that team members needs to hear, on average, feedback at least once a week.  This feedback, it turns out, needs to be directly related to how an employee’s job functions impact the organization’s purpose.  The challenge with feedback, much like conflict, is that most people are woefully unskilled at both giving and receiving it. More, we are prone to giving feedback as a reactive response to things that could improve.  Want to be truly groundbreaking?  Try giving feedforward — positive, pro-active reinforcements for jobs well done.

Uncompromised Trust:  The Missing Link in Today’s World

Corporate value statements have the potential to be one of the most powerful tools an organization has.  But in order to be more than words on a wall or a blurb in an annual report, they need to be linked to behaviours that are exhibited throughout an organization.   If an organization (and its leaders) cannot act in accordance to the values that it purports to believe in, how can customers and employees (indeed all stakeholders) trust it? Charles Green of a Boston-based corporate culture consultancy speaks to the four components of trust: credibility, reliance, intimacy, and self-orientation. Contrary to most assumptions, for intrinsic motivation to flourish at work the last two — intimacy and self-orientation (or how much others perceive our interests as truly being invested in another’s best outcome) are the most important. 

Collaborative Eco-Systems:  Not Automatic, but Systematic

The sustainable success of most organizations usually rests on its culture: that nebulous, hard to define, but easily felt ‘thing’ that dictates how work is done. Employees who are engaged at work enjoy cultures that are equitable, have clearly defined roles and responsibilities, and demand accountability. Transparency is at the heart of these organizations with information flowing without restraint. Having protocols for communication and accountability, and systems to positively reinforce both of these is the final ingredient for intrinsic motivation.

The Half:  Being on the Balcony and Dance Floor at the Same Time

Creating intrinsically motivated teams is not a one time event; it is a continuous, ever adapting process.  Carefully and artfully leading the constant ebbs and flows of the aforementioned six pillars of leadership  is not unlike how a tree is more than its leaves and branches, or a painting is more than just its oils and canvass.  Culture is something whose whole is greater than the sum of its parts. This is the secret sauce — the artful dance of being both fully participative in and fully observant of your organization’s cultural health, and masterfully weaving in any missing ingredients as these ebbs and flows change.

For more tips on creating thriving corporate cultures, make sure to visit our blog.



Casey Miller

Casey A. Miller, President of 6 ½ Consulting, is on a mission: to help create environments where people value one another. In his consultancy, this means teaching business owners and executives how to build workplaces that inspire. In return, their organizations see positive returns on their time, teams, and profits.

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