Talking About Motivation…

Why some motivational meetings don't work.

I wish I had a nickel for every company meeting designed to “rally the troops,” “pull us all together,” or “rev up the team.”

I’ve attended several of these meetings over the years. Maybe I have some kind of genetic flaw, but the truth is they certainly didn’t motivate me. If anything, I felt as if I was being manipulated – and poorly, at that.

Of course, if I worked for a company that gave away pink Cadillacs or one that transformed the door-to-door selling of detergent into a religion I might feel differently. But every time I’m supposed to be “motivated” by a guy with great hair or a woman with the permanent perkiness of a TV anchor, I get annoyed. Why are these attempts to turn me on turning me off?

As I think about it, the reason these corporate attempts to alter my behavior are so irksome is that the people paying for the injection of motivation – my employers – have such a mechanistic view of human behavior. They assume everyone needs a pick-me-up shot periodically because they assume that as an individual member of an organization, I’m indistinguishable from all the other disposable labor units. Left to our own devices, the thinking goes, we’d all just poop out in a massive, inert heap.

A recent issue of the business magazine “Fast Company” addresses the question of employee motivation and challenges this common management assumption. In an interview with reporter Polly LaBarre, Marcus Buckingham, an author and executive with the Gallup Organization, says that employees aren’t cut from the same cloth and that by encouraging them to develop their unique strengths and caring about what they’re doing, better corporate performance results. He says that companies where most employees are engaged in their work perform far better than those where employees either are not engaged or are actively disengaged. (In the U.S. working population, he says, 26 percent of workers are engaged, 55 percent are not engaged, and 19 percent are actively disengaged.)

Apparently, then, caring counts. If you are engaged in your work, which means that you care about what you’re doing, and you work with people who also care, your piece of the company pie probably will outsell and outperform competitors – and other parts of your own company.

Buckingham says companies are patch quilts of cultures, not one big culture, and that most CEOs have no clue as to what these cultures are, where they are or why one is more productive than another. He says programs to encourage a single, company-wide way of managing don’t make sense, because people are different and manage others and themselves differently.

If you’re a manager, the lessons of all this are clear: Seek out the top performers in your company and learn how and why they do what they do. Then try to find more people like them. If you are an employee, think about the activities and kinds of work that make you happy. If you delight in drawing pictures, washing laundry, answering phones or barking orders, don’t make yourself over. Try to find work that matches your innate abilities.

(C) Copyright 2001 Evan Cooper. Syndicated by Paradigm News, Inc.

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