Previous Article Next Article The fortnightly column that gets under the skin of the biggest issues facingthe HR professionIn the last Harvard Business Review, some of the most famous bosses in theUS shared their secrets for motivating workers. “Start with thetruth” suggested Carly Fiorina of Hewlett Packard. “Work quicklythrough pain,” averred Hank McKinnell of Pfizer. Others offered “theencouragement of risk” and the ever reliable “caring for the littleguy”. The advisers may be eminent, but the advice is crass enough to ensure anepidemic of lethargy. Motivation has always inspired unassailable platitudes. The reason is that advancements to the understanding of it are exceptionallyrare, coming at the rate of about one or two per century. They are usually putforward by scholars who have spent a lifetime probing the feelings of cohortsof employees, much like Darwin’s examination of glow worms. Even then,companies tend to ignore them. The last advancement came in the 1960s, with the work of industrialpsychologist Frederick Herzberg. He saw that companies get their workers to dowhat they want, principally by means of ‘the kick in the ass’, otherwise knownas KITA. The KITA is more often than not positive, through the provision ofincentives and counselling services, but it can be negative, in other words,‘do it or you’re sacked’. Job enrichment No sane manager could do without KITAs, but equally, it is clear that whilethe KITA may change behaviour, it does not truly motivate. Motivation, Herzbergargued, was a kind of internal motor, and concerned the intrinsic nature of thework, lying in factors such as achievement, recognition, satisfaction,responsibility and personal growth. His answer to the problem of motivating people to do boring work better waswhat he called ‘job enrichment’, which means widening the scope ofresponsibility, for instance, or designing roles in a way that enables workersto see their part in the overall production process. It is an insight that applies just as much to modern helpline gulags as toFordist production lines: the quality of the experience is the key to improvingproductivity; motivation must begin with the job itself, not the things builtaround it. But times are tight, pressures multiply, and good job design doesn’t soundterribly strategic. In fact, contract culture often seems to be propellingworking life in the other direction, towards narrower task definition and doingthe same thing faster – towards job impoverishment. Meanwhile, HR departmentsare reluctant to look at the inherent qualities of jobs, hoping instead to findmotivation-boosters in fashionable theories of commitment. Employee commitment is one of the red herrings of the age. For a start,commitment must be a two-way street, leading to difficult questions about thenature of an organisation’s loyalty to its workers. Commitment is often mostdesired by firms suffering high turnover. But this risks equating commitmentwith endurance, when in truth it is meaningless without pre-existing stability.And then, it will always prove impossible to direct commitment towards itsdesired target: it is common to loathe a company, but feel deeply committed toan individual boss. Take journalists, for instance. Dissect them and you will find appallinglylow levels of commitment to their employers: they are congenital troublemakerswho are much given to complaint and are easy to lure elsewhere. However, youwill also find surprisingly wholesome and perhaps naive levels of loyalty tothe ideals of their occupation – such as holding the powerful to account andproviding useful information. The gold standard Trying to increase their commitment to their employer via the usual HRwheezes – communicating values and rewarding ‘organisational citizenshipbehaviours’ – would have precisely the opposite effect. If, on the other hand,Herzbergian principles were to be applied, the task of motivation becomesinstantly clearer: you could amend responsibilities, change teams, rotatepositions and re-pot the ennui-niks in new roles. Jobs are – or should be – supremely malleable. Failing that, there is always cash – the gold standard of KITAs. “Why does the worker work?” asked Friedrich Engels in 1844. “Forlove of work? From a natural impulse. Not at all! He works for money, for athing which has nothing to do with the work itself.” Reward, of course, isthe conventional pivot for motivation: the universal, primary concern of allemployees is how far a job meets their requirements in terms of income andeffort. Yet, in terms of getting people to perform better in the job they do, incomeis a poor determinant of motivation. The Chartered Institute of Personnel andDevelopment has found such soft factors as organisational support andparticipation in decision-making to be far superior motivators; income is aboutkudos. This has the ring of truth. It is interesting to note that corporateexecutives are alone in their faith in the power of financial incentives –no-one would expect government ministers to work harder if they were entitledto a bonus triggered by above average GDP growth. In fact, it is a reliableprediction that whenever human beings have done anything amazing, financialincentives have had absolutely nothing to do with the motivation. The internalmotor runs on a special kind of fuel. Stephen Overell has given you his opinion, now what do you think? We wantyou to tell us your views. Q: Iskicking your employees in the ass’ theonly way to motivate them? [email protected] Off message: Motivating with more than moneyOn 18 Feb 2003 in Personnel Today Related posts:No related photos. Comments are closed.