One of my CEO executive coaching clients shared with me the data from a recent company engagement survey, which indicated that far too many employees weren’t engaged with the mission and vision of the company. Employees had too many priorities, and they couldn’t focus their energies.
The CEO wanted to inspire and motivate his workforce. We engaged in a pretty fierce coaching conversation about how to help his leaders develop a more growth-oriented mindset. They needed to learn how to tap into people’s intrinsic motivation.
Many business leaders have lost sight of what motivates people at work. In fact, some companies haven’t updated their incentive practices in years, which means they’re probably struggling to create and sustain high-performing teams.
The Motivational Trifecta
As adults, we never lose our need for autonomy. Productivity significantly increases for blue-collar workers in manufacturing plants when they are given the ability to stop the line. So does the productivity of white-collar workers in major investment banks who report a high sense of autonomy.
But when managers become too involved in coaching, encouraging and pushing people to be productive, they can actually undermine perceived autonomy. It’s a fine line that requires Goldilocks management: just the right amount.
Relatedness is defined as our need to care about, and be cared for by, others. “It is our need to feel connected to others without concerns about ulterior motives,” Fowler notes. “It is our need to feel that we are contributing to something greater than ourselves.”
In 1924, Western Electric conducted one of the first studies on workplace behaviors at Hawthorne Works, a plant located just outside of Chicago. Researchers found that workers were more productive when they knew they were being observed and were included in social interactions. George Elton Mayo described this as a positive emotional effect stemming from workers’ awareness of a sympathetic, interested observer.
We are social animals. When offered opportunities to work together, as in teams, our engagement and productivity increase. We thrive on connection. Think about it: We spend an enormous percentage of our time at work, getting ready for work, preparing for meetings and presentations, and thinking about what we’re going to say or do. Some experts estimate we spend 75 percent of our waking hours focused on work. If our relationship needs go unmet at work, we’re unlikely to compensate outside the workplace.
Leaders have enormous opportunities to help their people find meaning in workplace interpersonal experiences. If you make the mistake of applying pressure to perform without regarding how people feel, they’ll likely interpret your actions as self-serving. This never works. Your staff will instead disconnect and disengage.
3. Competence: Lessons from Monkeys
In 1949, psychologist Harry Harlow placed puzzles in monkeys’ cages and was surprised to find that the primates successfully solved them. Harlow saw no logical reason for them to do so. So, what motivated them? The answer is threefold:
- The monkeys’ survival didn’t depend on solving the puzzles.
- They didn’t receive any rewards, nor avoid any punishments, for their work.
- They solved the puzzles because they had a desire to do so.
As to their motivation, Harlow offered a novel theory: “The performance of the task provided intrinsic reward.” That is, the monkeys performed because they found it gratifying to solve puzzles. They enjoyed it, and the joy of the task served as its own reward.
Further experiments found that offering external rewards to solve these puzzles didn’t improve performance. In fact, rewards disrupted task completion. This led Harlow to identify a third motivational drive:
- The first drive for behaviors is survival. We drink, eat and copulate to ensure our survival.
- The second drive is to seek rewards and avoid punishment.
- The third drive is intrinsic: to achieve internal satisfaction.
Remember: People are already motivated. You can provide a culture that encourages higher levels. Don’t succumb to organizational systems that favor driving over thriving. It doesn’t have to be that way.
You can develop the qualities of motivational leadership by working with a professional coach. The investment is well worth the reward: your ability to influence the future, your career and your personal-development capabilities.
Are you working in a company where executive coaches provide leadership development to help leaders put motivational leadership into action? Does your organization provide executive coaching for leaders who need to be more conscious, and tap into the intrinsic motivation of followers? Inspiring leaders tap into their emotional intelligence and social intelligence skills to create a more fulfilling future.
One of the most powerful questions you can ask yourself is “Am I a motivational leader who inspires individuals and organizations to achieve their highest potential, flourish at work, experience elevating energy and achieve levels of effectiveness difficult to attain otherwise?” Emotionally intelligent and socially intelligent organizations provide executive coaching to help leaders develop a motivated workforce.