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Dr. Matt Grawitch: March 2011 Archives

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At least once a year, I hear ads on the radio and television for some local event that features a bunch of extremely successful people who are going to help motivate your sales staff. These events usually cost almost nothing for people to attend (the latest one I heard was $10 for the whole office). People send their employees to these events, hoping to inspire and motivate them to perform better.

Then, there’s the self-help motivational crowd. These folks try to convince you that their seminars, CDs, and books will motivate you to achieve better sales, a more successful career, or any number of other positive outcomes.

Regardless of the cost, we are left wondering: Can you really motivate another person in this way? The answer is probably yes. You can pump people up in the short term and, if you hit a sizeable enough audience of your employees, you might even see a short-term boost in productivity. Motivational speakers will tell you that this means they are worth the investment.

I, however, have a different perspective. Motivational speakers represent a type of external influence on people. It’s a lot like using some new award or bonus scheme to motivate staff. The problem with that approach if that (a) the effects wear off and (b) over time people become desensitized to those external effects, meaning that you have to up the ante to get the same results.

Rather than throwing money at motivational speakers to come in again and again to provide those temporary boosts, consider what you can do to the work environment and to your hiring process to optimize work engagement.

  • Create an environment that: (1) supports employee growth, (2) recognizes achievements, (3) provides appropriate support for performance, and (4) gives people sufficient autonomy and control.
  • Design selection systems that focus on hiring people who have the natural abilities, skills, and interests to perform the work well. People who are a good fit for the work not only have the potential to perform the job better but they tend to be more engaged in the work that they perform.

By taking this dual approach to motivation, organizations can create a context that optimizes intrinsic motivation, rather than continually bombarding them with extrinsic motivators, like bonuses and motivational speakers.

Photo Credit http://www.flickr.com/photos/korafotomorgana / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0