Every morning we get up, hopefully from a restful nights sleep and we follow our morning routine. Mine involves a strong black coffee, a hot shower and the news headlines from BBC Breakfast. I drive to the office on the usual route, unless I need to take or make a phone call, then I go the long way round because it has no black spots where I might potentially lose phone signal. As the morning unfolds I have my regular time for email checks and the opening and reading of the days post, and responding to the necessary communications accordingly. Of course each day may have a very similar routine but that might vary depending on the respective day of the week, each week will have a reasonably predictable structure within a degree of flexibility and each month generally follows a given focus of activity, demanded by a given workload. You get the picture. To a certain extent we are all creatures of habit. We like our routine and even the most spontaneous of us will still have recognised routines that pepper their day to day.
We behave in ways that are generally predictable. I am not saying that all of our behavioural responses are pre-programmed and entirely predictable, but I am saying that we all have certain patterns of behaviour that we revert to on a regular or even daily basis. They might involve speaking to the same person each day on the morning commute, meeting the same group each Friday after for drinks or playing a particular genre of music to help us get through a particularly difficult piece of work. Each of these behaviours will have an underlying motivation that is satisfied by the reward that they bring. It is that reward which is enticing us to return to those behaviours.
Let me explain what I mean. When I have a piece of work to do that will require long bouts of deep and focused concentration or if I am driving home after a particularly taxing day I play classical music. These are not the only times I play classical music but when I am faced with an intense piece of desk work or have completed a hard day I always play classical music. The reason I do this is because it helps to relax me. When I am relaxed I am easier to live with when I get home, I can switch off the day and I can be present with the people I love. When I am relaxed I can think clearly, focus for longer and that in turn increases my productivity. When those whom I love want to be around me I get an internal ‘lift’, not just a warm and fuzzy but a clear sense of belonging and of significance. When I have risen to, and effectively seen off the challenge of a taxing piece of work I get strong sense of accomplishment and I feel my contribution valuable. This too results in an internal ‘lift’. Therefore, because these ‘lifts’ are rewards to me in terms of endorphins and the feelings they evoke I am more likely to repeat the behaviours on future occasions.
I have a need to feel that I belong in my family and my work place. I have a need to feel that my contribution is significant and valuable. I have a need to feel that my efforts are productive and my work valuable to each of the key stakeholders. If each of these small rewards meet those needs then I will persist in those behaviours that evoke those rewards.
You may recognise yourself in the behaviour I have explained or you may at least see similarities with your own behaviour. These routines or behaviours can be both positive and negative, they can be either productive or destructive. As individuals it is important for us tolerant to identify, not
only these behaviours but the cause of the behaviours. What is the motivation for the behaviour? What is the reward we seek and what is the need that motivates us towards repeating the behaviour?
The more reflective among us may well be able to answer these questions with very little help, others may need to talk over their behaviours with a trusted friend or family member. Better still a coach or mentor will be able to help us reflect on our behaviour patterns and possible motivation. Understanding our own motivation, and the accompanying behaviour can provide insight into helping us manage more effectively those things that increase our productivity and our stress levels and in so doing protecting not only our own wellbeing but also maximising our productivity output simultaneously.
Business leaders and those that lead teams would do well to learn from this motivation theory in order to increase their respective teams wellbeing and productivity. In the same way that an individual’s behaviour is stimulated by a need that in turn is met by a reward so leaders can learn to reinforce those internal rewards in order to maximise the internal ‘payoff’ that the ‘lift’ brings to each of their individual team members. Insightful allocation of tasks can be a simple and subtle means of keeping motivation high. Knowing your teams skill sets is indicative of a good leader. Knowing their interests, gifting and passions is the sign of a great leader. When a given task lines up with two or more of these areas in an individual, their task and team motivation will be high.
Ken Blanchard, author of ‘One Minute Manager’ and ‘Catch people doing something Right’, amongst other books has long espoused the value of ‘praise conversations’ engaged in a timely manner and how they increase motivation. Simply by acknowledging publicly a job well done, or even a word of thanks expressed in private can result in an internal ‘lift’ increasing in potency and therefore reinforcing its reward value. This simple and inexpensive act can result in our team members motivation levels increasing, have them more fully engage with our organisation’s goals and increase their happiness in the work place. An employee or team member that has an increased level of motivation will be of benefit to themselves, the leader and the organisation by increasing their own performance which will in turn increase team’s and organisation performance. Increased performance has the potential to increase customer/stakeholder satisfaction, increasing loyalty and retention which has the further potential of increasing profit and or market share.
Even in the absence of these bottom line affects a motivated work force will see talent retention levels at worst maintained but more likely increased, churn reduced and external stakeholder satisfaction increased.
Be cautious though, for positive reinforcement is not the only factor in motivation theory. A failure to notice a concerted effort put in by a conscientious member or an oversight on a leaders part resulting in a lack of appreciation of time invested can result in a withdrawal from the motivation bank account. I spoke with a client recently who had put a lot of time and energy into planning and programming an organisation wide profit focused initiative. Their project involved an organisation wide town-hall launch. After the launch had been planned and publicised a senior leader in the organisation asked them to reorganise the launch in order to accommodate some maintenance of the room used for the town-hall. It was clear to all that this maintenance had been organised at last minute and could very easily be changed. Observing the team members non verbals and hearing the tone in their voice as they explained the full story, it became increasingly clear to me that a hefty withdrawal had taken from their motivation bank, probably one in a recent line withdrawals. I could see that the organisations leader was oblivious to the decrease in motivation (for now) and probably totally incognisant of the fact that it was entirely down to their own inattention to their team members efforts and their failure to reinforce and affirm someone who was motivated, conscientious and highly productive.
Let those of us who lead commit to finding ways to praise our team members in a timely fashion and with praise that is clear, sincere and specific. Let them know what it is you observed, the difference it made and why you appreciated it so much. When we praise our team members in an authentic and unambiguous way we boost that internal reward, that increases their satisfaction levels which heightens their motivation. Motivated teams grow to achieve even more which further improves their motivation. It is leadership like this that makes the difference.