The Myth of Motivation

Myth

By Tom Fedro

I’ve been fortunate to experience a great many exciting business environments, and it’s been very interesting to watch how approaches to business have changed and then changed back and then changed again.  I’ve seen buzzwords praised and condemned and been through all of the big and sweeping business philosophies.  I’ve seen six sigma, management by objective, one minute management, team management and more.  It can get crazy, but I’ve come to the conclusion that we’re really looking at one thing and one thing alone, people.

Think about that for a minute and then consider the departments in your organization.  When you think “sales” you’re probably putting a face or a name to the thought.  When you think “IT” you’re doing the same.  No matter how much we try to program things in a way that lets us avoid it, the reality is that people do the work of your company and people make the difference between success and failure.  So naturally, we all try to figure out how we can motivate people to do their jobs in a way that builds our success, right?

Here’s the problem.  Motivation is a myth.  More accurately, “motivating,” is a myth.  I remember one of the most significant things I learned when studying Dr. W. Edwards Deming.  (He’s often considered the father of Total Quality Management.) He made a comment in answer to a question and said, “Everyone is already doing his best.”  He went on to explain that best efforts, to have any value, need direction.  How often do we spend our time trying to get our employees to be excited about their work instead of making sure they have all of the information and tools necessary to get it done?  Really, if your employees need constant urging to do the work, should you reconsider how you hire them?

I believe everyone wants to take pride in his or her work.  I don’t think anyone wakes up in the morning and thinks How can I get away with drawing a paycheck while accomplishing nothing.  Maybe I’m wrong, but I know I’d never hire anyone with that attitude and wouldn’t keep anyone with that attitude on staff.  Here’s the scary thing though… do I encourage those kinds of thoughts by making assumptions my employees won’t do their job if I’m not right there offering a constant stream of extrinsic incentives?  Am I frustrating the desire to succeed right out of my staff when I cheer them on, exhort them to put in that extra effort, and beg them for superhuman dedication?  If I’m more focused on their willingness to perform than I am on their ability to perform, I think that’s the result.

I’m not saying there isn’t a time and place for a pat on the back and encouragement.  I am saying that it’s time we had enough faith in our employees to believe they actually WANT to succeed and to make sure they have the tools necessary to do so.  What good is getting them excited when they don’t have what it takes to deliver, right?

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