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Motivating people – How Managers Can Get It Wrong!

The approach to motivation within many organizations fails to address as many as 3 out of 5 of the factors that motivate people to high levels of performance.  A major lost opportunity to maximize performance and potential.

What motives people is hardly a surprise.  Decades of research has demonstrated the requirements of high performance not just in business, but in sport and practically all other areas of human endeavor.  The findings have filled the pages of countless leadership books, conferences and seminars.

It is time that leaders were provided with access to this body of powerful knowledge. Without it they cannot hope to get sustained high levels of performance from their teams.


Understanding What Really Motivates People

Let's start by addressing (in perhaps the clearest way possible) what motivates people (whether they are in , or in any other area). To do this we will borrow on Abraham Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs in order to understand what motivates high performing people.

Human motivation is a complex subject and it is difficult for any one theory to provide a universal explanation of human behaviour. However, in the middle of the last century Maslow suggested a hierarchy of needs and this has remained central to any discussion on motivation since.  He represented human motivation in the form of a pyramid.

hierarchy of needs for people

At the base of the pyramid are ‘physiological needs' such as food, shelter and so on.  Once those needs are satisfied a person's needs are elevated to the next level; ‘safety needs', such as health and security.

As each level of needs is addressed the focus turns to a higher-order need – ‘social needs', ‘esteem needs' and at the apex of the pyramid ‘self actualization needs'  – don't worry about the labels for now, they are explained a little later.  Well, that is the theory at least, but most organizations have a slightly different take on motivating performance.


Manager's Skewed Views Of Motivation

managers have their own take on Maslo's pyramid of needs and it looks something like this:

the hierarchy of needs for managers


Bottom line the issue of performance management in has tended to adopt an overly simplistic view of human motivation.  In particular it sees money as being the primary motivation for most people.  This is reflected in so many aspects of how people are managed, from incentive structures to performance reviews.


high levels of performance


In effect many managers hold the belief that ‘if the prospect of earning a wage (and on top of that commissions) is not enough to get people performing, then you have hired the wrong person'.  This is a belief that is self-fulfilling and is a risky false assumption.



The Mistakes Managers Make

As we have discussed elsewhere many managers struggle with the issue of how to motivate people to perform to the highest levels.  The reason is that their truncated view of the pyramid of human motivation leads to some very limiting false assumptions regarding team performance:

common false assumptions made by  managers

When it comes to getting the most from their teams, many managers think that it is all about money. They think that the purpose of the  team is to reach target and that its passion is to earn commissions.  But what about the top of the pyramid?


So You Think It Is All About Money?

If you think money is the key motivator, then think again.

Rather than writing pages on why this is the case, here is a powerful short video on the research that proves this point.



Motivation Beyond Money

There is a lot more to motivating people than money and security.  If you want high levels of performance then you need to climb further up the pyramid of motivation.

High performing people have ‘a desire to accomplish everything that one can, to become the most that one can be’.  It is called the need for self-actualization.

High performing person


This leads directly to the need for people to have a sense of purpose about their work – one that goes beyond the corporate mission statement.  If they are really to perform people need to feel passionate or fired-up about what they do.  Yet our data shows that is not the case for most people:Most people are not fired up by their work.

Igniting that passion has to be a key element of any performance improvement initiative. It is a key responsibility of managers to foster passion and a sense of purpose.


Building Self-Esteem

High performing people need to feel valued by others…to feel respected.  They have esteem needs.
Yet in many organizations people are ‘brow-beaten'.  That is because many managers don't see building the confidence and pride of their team as important to performance.  Indeed our own data shows that a great number of people don't work within an environment where communication, trust and respect are core values.
trust and respect within  organisations
managers who want high levels of performance have to build the levels of confidence and pride among their teams.  They need to demonstrate that they value and respect their team members.

Building A Sense of Team

High-performing people have social needs – that is the ‘need to feel a sense of belonging and acceptance among their social groups.’

social needs among people

There may be some good news when it comes to how organizations meet the social needs of their people.  Our data shows that most people believe they ‘work well together as a team'.
people say they work well together as a team
Yet, it may be important to draw a distinction between working well as a team and a sense of belonging to the larger organization. That is because for many people the atmosphere within and around the organization may have an alienating effect:

A Call To Action

To conclude.  The approach to motivation within many organizations fails to address as many as 3 out of 5 of the factors that motivate people to high levels of performance.
Managers have got to realize that when it comes to motivation they have may have an up-side down view of things. It is the top of the pyramid that matters most and yet is so often neglected.  Here is how management guru Peter Senge puts it:
Motivating  teams

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Would you like to discuss this or another topic with us? Click here. Ray Collis heads up the research & analytics team at Growth Pitstop - an organisation committed to sharing its research for the benefit of all. Running a podcast, a webinar or event? Ask Ray if he is available. You can connect with Ray on Linked in here. Got an idea of a topic you would like us to explore? Contact us here. See our editorial guidelines here.

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