Employee motivation is not a trickster’s harvest

Financial Standard

By Anderea Morara

We have discussed employee motivation in this column before. However, I wish to revisit the subject due to a number of enquiries received from readers. One enthusiastic manager says he has tried every "trick" he could conceive of, but he moans of "no noticeable improvement".

I do not have much sympathy for managers who attempt to use "tricks" to motivate workers. Motivation should be a genuine and effectively communicated process. The question any serious manager needs to answer is: "what are the factors likely to motivate people at their work place?"

Some of the factors identified in a number of studies include "interesting" work, appreciation of work done, "good" working conditions, "good" pay, job security and opportunities for career advancement.

While keeping these in mind, today we will focus on how various styles of management affect motivation.

In other words, we attempt to answer the question, "what kind of management style produces the best conditions for generating motivated employees? What style makes the worker want to produce more?"

Most management styles are classified into broad categories with varying degrees within them. One is democratic, the other autocratic. The democratic is usually the one popular with most workers because it is employee-oriented, while autocratic is described as being pro-duction-oriented.

In other words, in the democratic case, the conditions would be slanted towards the employee first and production second, in the hope that if the employee is happy he will work better and in the final analysis production goals will be met.

The autocratic case contends that if management takes a hard-nosed, no-nonsense attitude, spells out what is to be done, stays right on top of the employees, then productivity is guaranteed. Thus the conditions are created around production first and employees second.

Which of the two is superior? There have been several theories of motivation advanced, such as Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, which puts forth the theory that employees are motivated to satisfy a prioritised set of needs.

Management Techniques

Herzberg's Maintenance Factors state that employees take for granted certain aspects of a job to be automatic such as good pay, good supervision, good working conditions, etc, and that these factors must be mentioned.

McGregor’s Theory X and Theory Y, which, in simple terms, says you can motivate an employee either with a whip, ie punishment (Theory X) or a carrot, ie reward (Theory Y), and that carrots are better than whips.

There is yet a newer theory, incorporating Japanese management techniques called Theory Z. This theory emphasises a mixture of compassion with toughness by management carrying out goals. Sincerity is the key in this theory, which believes in management levelling with employees in an open and honest way and using a formula consisting of sensitivity, structure, etiquette and sincerity.

Theory Z has been credited with the global success of Japanese industry.

There is what could be described as Theory K (which assumes that everyone is inherently corrupt and yet wishes to paint a saintly picture of themselves). I am sure you might have seen a sign in front of some government office boldly declaring that ‘office so and so is a corruption-free zone, yet the truth is known to be otherwise.

Under Theory K management, all employees are assumed to be corrupt (thieves) and have to be kept in permanent surveillance until they leave the office (especially factory) premises. Here, any show of trust to an employee is deemed to be highly motivational.

Simple Formulas

Effective management cannot be based on simple formulas. It is important to understand the theories of management, but it is even more important to be aware that they are not universal recipes to management excellence.

People have their differences – both at the cultural level and as individuals. The successful manager is the one who looks at his staff through lenses of enlightened theory, but with an understanding of the employee culture and appreciation for their individuality before deciding on the whip, carrot or both.

For the managers who have only a few employees under their supervision, the individual approach is recommended.

Thus, theories notwithstanding, give each employee a customised motivational journey depending on their traits and aptitudes.

If by giving David a bit of leeway, he ends up doing a better job, then a more democratic style is the route to superior results for him. On the other hand, some employees can only work well in a highly structured environment where someone has to tell them what to do, how to do it, and when that is done, what to do next. With such employees, you are bound to get better results through an autocratic style.

These types of employees are motivated by the fact that you have minimised the risk associated with their jobs by deciding for them - ie they will not be held responsible for results so long as they carry out your instructions to the letter.