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How We Motivate People


Tim Bryce

Employee Management Articles
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Tuesday, September 7, 2010

I've been thinking about how we motivate people lately, be it in the work place or in a volunteer organization and I'm of the opinion there is no single approach that is universally applicable. It's a matter of finding each person's hot button and knowing how to push it. I think the reason for this is because people today are more ruggedly independent and competitive, rather than cooperative and working as a team. Unfortunately, this complicates the life of the manager who must somehow get a group of people working towards common objectives.

I've classified the various motivational techniques into "Soft" and "Hard." Soft motivation techniques are used to encourage people to think and act in certain ways primarily using the art of suggestion. Some techniques in this category are direct, but most are subliminal as we appeal to the worker's intellect, that it would be in their best interest to work or act in a certain manner. Managers may use one or more of the following techniques depending on the person and situation:


* Salesmanship - if the business problem or objective is properly stated and the benefits clearly defined, most people will respond accordingly, but a lot depends on how the message is presented. A word out of place or spoken without conviction and your message may be misinterpreted. It's very important to solicit understanding and get your audience shaking their heads in agreement with you thereby confirming they comprehend your message.

* Brainwashing - do not underestimate the power of repetitive messages, be it on the computer, on printed signs, audio sound bites or whatever. Repetition represents a subliminal way to motivate people. Keep your message short and sweet; also make it iconic so it triggers certain responses from your workers.

* Rewards - financial compensation, benefits, time off and even a simple luncheon represents a carrot and stick approach to motivating people. To me, this approach was more effective 20-30 years ago than it is today where employees fully expect to enjoy all of the perks a company has to offer regardless if they earned it or not.

* Elitism - creating an esprit de corps among workers has at times proven very effective. Over the years there have been several reports describing how workers who are given special preferential treatment respond enthusiastically. Giving such treatment implies promoting a worker's social standing in the company (it's a "class" thing). Elitism can take many forms, be it new facilities, use of special technology, more freedom in the workplace, more participation in project decisions, etc. If workers believe they are working on a "state of the art" project or are given star status, they tend to develop a swagger and work more earnestly as they wish to maintain their perception of self-worth. Occasionally workers abuse their stardom, at which time it is necessary for the manager to burst their bubble and bring them back to Earth.

* Interpersonal Relations - This is much more than salesmanship as it requires the use of all of a manager's rhetorical powers being applied spontaneously. Here, the manager must interact with each worker individually and thereby must know each person's hot buttons. Consequently, a manager must be able to quickly shift from being friendly and kind one moment, to satirical in the next, to consoling, to some friendly bullying, to kidding and friendly teasing, etc.

* Inspiration - this can be a very handy technique for motivating people who can be inspired through a talk or an article. If workers truly believe in their leaders, they can move heaven and earth. This of course means the development of positive role models for others to emulate. It can also be through some act a person has performed, such as some special achievement or award received. People tend to respect others they know to possess special qualities.

* Mentoring - here, the older workers offer wise counsel to younger workers and guides them through their professional development. Although mentoring was at one time a popular technique used in business, it fell into disuse for several years in the late 20th century. Only now is it beginning to make a comeback.

* Teaching - simple education through classes or seminars can inculcate important lessons and leave an indelible impression on workers.

Aside from these "Soft" motivational techniques, there are some workers who are just plain "thick" and do not take hints well. Consequently, a manager must make use of "Hard" techniques, such as:


* Criticism - sharp criticisms and insults regarding workmanship can sting, particularly if coworkers learn of it. Unfortunately, the only way to get some workers' attention is by questioning their professional integrity. Sometimes bullying can produce remarkable results, but I do not recommend it as a regular diet. Beware of embarrassing employees who may respond by subverting your plans. It is also a good way to create enemies. Then again, do you really care?

* Ranting and raving - loud and obnoxious outbursts demonstrate your displeasure with something and acts as a warning to all in earshot that you mean business. Most people like to avoid losing their cool, but sometimes it can really rattle the cages of workers. Think of it as an occasional stick of dynamite to move a stubborn problem out of the way.

* Threats - nobody likes to be threatened but regrettably sometimes it is necessary and certain people respond positively to it, be it a threat to employment, a cut in pay, or whatever. By putting the fear of God into someone, it's amazing what they can produce. One caveat though, check the person's work carefully as they may have cut corners or even sabotaged their work.

* Placebos - represents simple trickery, be it offering a magical pill, changing the clock, or whatever. Through simple misdirection you can induce people to produce the results you want in spite of their inclinations.

* Micromanagement - representing close supervision of the worker activities. This is primarily used in situations where the boss does not trust the judgment of the workers and finds it necessary to direct all of their activities personally. The only problem here is the manager spends more time supervising and less time managing. Further, workers no longer feel responsible for workmanship and rightfully blame the manager for any errors made.

It bothers me that we have to use "Hard" motivational techniques to produce the results we want as managers. I am the type who just needs to believe in what I am doing in order to tackle an assignment (just a little "Salesmanship"). However, not everyone is the same and it is necessary for a manager, regardless of the organizational entity, to use whatever techniques are available to get the job done. It is not surprising to see some people take on a chameleon approach to management where their disposition can change from kind and gentle to harsh and tyrannical in order to suit the moment. In fact, a good manager must possess the ability to change his/her deportment. If a manager is nothing more than a simple easygoing person, workers may be inclined to abuse him as they do not take him seriously. In contrast, if a person is a tyrant, he runs the risk of mutiny or abandonment. The manager must be willing to change his disposition to suit the situation and get the results desired. In the end, it's a matter of knowing how and when to push the hot buttons of our workers.

Keep the Faith!

Note: All trademarks both marked and unmarked belong to their respective companies.
Copyright 2010 by Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.

About the Author

Tim Bryce is the Managing Director of M. Bryce & Associates (MBA) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 30 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at

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Article Published/Sorted/Amended on Scopulus 2010-10-01 15:47:56 in Employee Articles

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