Leadership

What Really Motivates Your Team–and Yourself?

rockefeller

With the majority of the workforce reporting in survey after survey that they are disengaged from their jobs, companies are eager to crack the motivation formula.

Bonuses, perks, team-building days, flextime–more solutions are being tried every day. But are they really solving the problem?

Motivating employees can be difficult because every company, team, and worker is different. In essence, that seeming problem offers the trick to the solution. Companies need to recognize that motivations vary, and a one-size-fits-all approach isn’t going to work.

One of the common refrains about motivation is that paying people more doesn’t engage people more. A survey of Ivy Exec members found that to be largely the case. Relationships with managers, a company’s leadership, and the tasks of the job itself all scored higher on the motivation food chain.

But as Chester Elton, author of What Motivates Me, points out, there is a risk for companies that respond to those kind of surveys with monolithic approaches. Elton calls attention to some of the myths currently swirling around motivation, including the big one that money doesn’t matter. For some, it does.

Elton writes:

John D. Rockefeller, at one point the world’s richest man, was asked by a reporter: “How much money is enough?” He responded, “Just a little bit more.” He had more money than he knew what to do with, and he was driven by what? Making more!

He quotes Steven Reiss, a professor at Ohio State University: “Individuals differ enormously in what makes them happy—for some, competition, winning, and wealth are the greatest sources of happiness, but for others feeling competent and socializing may be more satisfying.”

There is no point judging one motivation as better than others. People are driven by all sorts of things, and they are highly personal. I have a friend who is driven by reaching goals of all sorts. She sets lines in the sand, quotas on things from how far she will run and to what she will eat to how many books she will read. The activity itself is less important than how good it feels to her to meet a goal.

Which brings us to another of the myths Elton mentions. Not everyone wants that corner office, either.

“Coming out of college, there are very strong societal pressures that make us believe that promotions and job changes will make us happy. After all, we’ll have more power, wealth and importance,” writes Elton. “While this may be rewarding for some—those driven by ideas such as ownership, money and prestige—it won’t be for the majority of individuals driven by other motivators.”

Managers need to focus their efforts on understanding the goals and motivations of the employees on their teams. They need to observe, and to ask. If your manager isn’t asking and you are dissatisfied with your work, it is up to you to figure out what you really want and create it–at your current job or your next.

For those unhappy with their jobs or looking for a new one, it is essential to determine what really motivates you. Consider the top things that energize you and that might make you happiest. Really think about specific experiences, both at work and in the rest of life, that you felt were both enjoyable and gratifying. Look below the surface. You may be satisfied meeting a deadline—but was it the challenge, the teamwork, or the work itself, say writing an article or code?

About the Author

Susan Price has been writing about careers, entrepreneurs and personal finance for more than a decade. She’s been an editor at BusinessWeek, Money, and iVillage.com, among others.