What’s the ONE thing your staff want most?

Business Coaching, Job Market

What drives human beings?  If we could nail this one then success might be less elusive?  According to Daniel Pink in his book Drive, two basic drives of human behaviour have dominated our understanding and practice: Motivation 1.0 is the drive to survive: to eat and reproduce; Motivation 2.0 is the drive for reward and avoidance of punishment.  The threat of joblessness and destitution drives people to continue to turn up to work in jobs they hate.  This doesn’t make for a happy thriving  work force, but at least they turn up! The more positive motivator is the promise of reward: do this job well and we’ll give you more money/ you’ll have better job prospects.

However, in actual fact studies have shown that these two motivators are not the most effective for driving long term, sustainable change and human flourishing. Pink details a series of experiments that have shown that when two groups were given the same tasks, one with the promise of reward and the other without, the first group showed an initial advance in their productivity. However, if the perk is subsequently removed then the first group become significantly LESS productive than the group who were never offered reward.  The second group had developed intrinsic interest and enjoyment in the task and were motivated to continue with it for its own sake, for the joy of completing the challenge.

Interestingly when the NHS trialled a scheme to encourage more people to give blood by paying them for each donation, the number of blood donors actually went DOWN! People lost motivation when it became extrinsically incentivised.  They wanted to do it for its own intrinsic value. Other experiments have shown that individual creativity actually decreases when external incentive is attached to a task: people become tunnel visioned rather then exploring alternative solutions to a problem.

This is incredibly relevant to our workplaces and schools. In my experience people are often motivated to go above and beyond the call of duty, to give of their time sacrificially, to invest in a task even without the promise of extra pay.  In the teaching profession this is the norm! The whole of our education system depends upon it.  And although it is exhausting at times, most will give the extra time happily IF, and it’s a big IF… IF it is acknowledged; not rewarded, acknowledged. This is critical.

A study of one million workers by Gallup found that the number one reason why people leave their jobs (75%) was their direct line manager. This is the difference between a thriving organisation and a flailing one, and why investing in your middle leaders is the number one priority of senior leadership: if your staff feel like their contribution, their sacrifice and their skillset is acknowledged they will give and give and give.  I think this challenges a commonly held assumption about human nature, the assumption that we are basically selfish creatures.  I don’t think the evidence holds up for this. We have an innate desire to give, to make a contribution, to make a difference but also a sense of justice that makes us feel incensed when fair acknowledgment is withheld; when, for example, after 15 years of service to an employer, there isn’t due recognition.  People don’t leave jobs, they leave bosses.

In the classroom the same is true. At my children’s school they give out different coloured ties for achievement in arts, sports and for attitude to learning. It seems strange that these are sought after so much. Ties are not generally a desired piece of apparel! But of course its not the tie, it’s what the tie represents: my effort has been noted, recognised, acknowledged. And that will make me work harder every time.

If you want to raise the temperature of your employee engagement or of your student motivation this is where to start. With the every day acknowledgment that comes from a great teacher or line manager, the care that remembers a birthday, asks about the weekend, notices the overtime, says when something stands out, understands when there are personal issues that affect output. Forget this stuff and output will stall.

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” – Maya Angelou