It's an age old story of productivity – some employees are hard charging git 'er done types while others seemingly need a cattle prod. Yes, these examples are the extremes but finding ways to keep employees motivated even when you are the best type of leader can sometimes be challenging. Wouldn't it be nice if we all had organizations full of high-achieving, initiative-taking, only-come-to-you-when-they-REALLY-hit-a-brick-wall employees? Why is that so tough?
Well, the truth is that unless you have a crystal ball when hiring, you may be holding yourself (and worse, your associates) to an impossible standard.
The fact of the matter is this: No matter how good a leader you are, ninety percent of the time your employees (depending on certain factors) are driven by motives that have NOTHING to do with work and trying to tap into those needs requires an understanding of human behavior beyond basic leadership skills.
If you'll think back to Psych 101, you may recall studying the work of Abraham Maslow who developed the theory that human needs are arranged in a hierarchical order ranging from basic needs such as food, water and shelter to more advanced needs such as justice, unity and goodness. He fit this theory onto a scale called Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs (see graph). The idea here is that human beings progress (most often non-linearly) through the scale ultimately working toward the pinnacle of self-actualization.
I know. I know. You never thought you would use that stuff again but here's why it should matter to you….
Where your associates fit on the scale affects their motivations and hence, what they best respond to.
For example, a mid-level associate who is working toward self-esteem may be greatly honored by a certificate or some form of public recognition while an entry level associate or minimum wage earner may be working on safety or physiological needs and is better motivated by a monetary bonus.
To complicate matters, understand that each of us can move back and forth between the levels depending on current life situations. As an example, dealing with an unexpected death or a pay-cut may temporarily move that mid-level associate back to navigating safety issues. It is also worth noting that all human beings do not actually aspire to self-actualization!
Despite some of the challenges to Maslow's original theories, his work was the spring board for other studies of human behavior within organizations and reminds us that when developing associates, our goal is to understand what motivates and to support consistent achievement (or passage) through the various levels.
The bottom-line: Instead of driving yourself crazy trying to turn your associates into something they aren't today, invest your energy in understanding where they are, meeting them there and identifying the needs that will motivate them to be who they want to be tomorrow. Therein lies the seeds of creating effective and motivated associates.
Continue to be great!