Friday, February 26, 2010

Motivate me to be satisfied

There are so many ways to motivate your workers. You could crack the proverbial whip (or a real one), you could coddle them and always tell them they're doing a good job, or you could concoct an elaborate Saw-style death-laden scenario in which your employees have to complete TPS reports or risk the gruesome deaths of family members and pets before their very eyes. This strategy, while extremely effective, violates a few societal taboos, and... you know... laws...

That presentation better be on my desk by 4:00, or THIS happens
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All horrific off-color humor aside, chapter eight of the renowned text Organizational Behavior by legendary battle-mages Kreitner and Kinicki is a valuable source for learning "motivate character" spells. Just make sure the target of your spell is under level 21, and has at least 5 less charisma than you, excluding enchantments (yes, I'm a nerd).

Once again, putting all nerdy and horror-related jokes to one side, let's get down to business on this whole concept of motivation and satisfaction. Of course, we are all going to get jobs at some point. I could make all kinds of snide remarks about the economy, and how job interviews are going to be more like episodes of American Gladiator in order to land even a fry-cook job; but, once the economy turns around (and it will), we are all going to be working somewhere, and for most of us, that "somewhere" is going to be an office of some kind. Not everyone is going to get a job headbutting sharks or knife-fighting terrorists.

Just another day at the office... for ME anyway
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As stated in my previous post, working in an office tends to be awful. But not always. This brings us to the precipice of an important workplace topic: motivation. What motivates an employee to do well in his job? The answer won't surprise you. Of course, it's job satisfaction, but what contributes to job satisfaction? What makes us satisfied- or dissatisfied, for that matter- with our jobs?

Everyone goes to work for different reasons. Some people simply want steady income, while others want to contribute to something bigger than themselves. Others enjoy the teamwork, and still others want to be part of a unit and feel wanted. All of these reasons are equally valid, and they all satisfy psychological needs of some kind. The book covers multiple models of needs and interpersonal dynamics in Chapter 8, but I want to focus this discussion to laser-point accuracy on one aspect that I found very interesting: the concept of iniquity on the job.

When on the job, one thing we will inevitably do is compare ourselves to others, as a gauge of our performance and other factors. It comes down to a theory called Adams's Equity Theory of Motivation. This theory has two primary focuses: inputs and outcomes. As stated in the book,

"An employee's inputs, for which he or she expects a just return, include education/training, skills, creativity, seniority, age, personality traits, effort expended, and personal appearance. On the outcome side of the exchange, the organization provides such things as pay/bonuses, fringe benefits, challenging assignments, job security, promotions, status symbols, and participation in important decisions." -Pg. 218

So it comes down to a really simple concept that all of us have been grappling with our entire lives- you give something and expect to get something back. Your inputs should determine your outcomes. When you put something into an activity, you expect the reward to be, at least, on par with your commitment. You want to be recognized and rewarded for the things that you do. In essence, rewards should match effort.

There are exceptions
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This is where the concept of iniquity comes into play. Sure, you get a paycheck and plush cubicle, but you want to FEEL like you're be recognized for you achievements. Once you start to feel that you're being passed up for less-qualified-but-better-connected coworkers that keep getting promoted above you, you'll start to become less motivated. This is a slippery slope that can lead to a low self-image. Imagine if you came in two Saturdays in a row last quarter to help out John from accounts payable with some work he was unable to do while skiing in Tahoe. He helped you out a few months ago, when your mother died and you went to her funeral, so it was only fair. Well, you come into work only to find that he gets promoted because of his "stellar effort." Chances are, you'd start to get really pissed off, and you might even have a word with corporate about it, to explain that the awesome presentation he gave at the last quarterly meeting was actually the result of two of YOUR Saturdays, and on one of them, you couldn't be with your kids. All while that douchebag John was skiing.

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This lovely little scenario is called "negative inequity." Essentially, you both did similar amounts of work. He covered for you while you went to a funeral, and so you covered for him while he went skiing. Of course, he got promoted and you didn't (and he got promoted for YOUR work, which is absurd). So you're inevitably going to compare yourself to him and say, "Hey, we've been doing just about the same amount of work, and that douche gets promoted over me!" It makes you so mad, you could mock a toddler and punch a puppy. Or punch John.

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Because this scenario would undoubtedly discourage you, you are now less motivated. You now feel that your inputs are not met with the same outcomes when you compare yourself to John. He has a nice corner office, and you're still in your cubicle. This would actually lead to less inputs on your part. Since you feel that the hard work you did on those Saturdays went largely unnoticed, guess how likely it is that you'd do it again? Not very. That's correct- you have lost your motivation, because your hard work was practically ignored.

This is an important lesson to learn, both for employees and those that manage them. From the standpoint of the employees, it's important to realize that your outcomes are often directly tied to the inputs that management PERCEIVES you are contributing. If you did John's work on those Saturdays and didn't tell anyone about it, then management would logically assume it was John that did it (even while he was away skiing, which makes him look even better). From the management standpoint, it's important to know where those inputs are coming from. Did the employee have help? If they did, then it's important to acknowledge and reward all involved in a project, no matter how small, because this makes the employees feel as though their inputs are being recognized, and that they matter in the workplace.

This has to do with a term I'm inventing right now as I'm writing this called, "Input Opacity." Input opacity is the visibility of your inputs in the workplace. If you're going above and beyond your job description, it's your responsibility to make sure that someone knows about it. I'm not saying you should parade around the office lauding every one of your accomplishments, but sometimes it's as easy as saying to your boss, "Hey, I'm going to come in on Saturday to help John out with his presentation, OK?" If your contributions are invisible, then management is going to wonder what you're doing there in the first place. Therefore, make them opaque and visible.

Make sure that your contributions can be linked back to you, and chances are that you'll be recognized for them. Keep in mind that managers have to keep track of a lot of people and a lot of tasks, and they aren't known for going out of their way to track down who did the middle 7 slides of a Powerpoint presentation. Making sure that management knows who did what ensures recognition for accomplishments, which will make you more satisfied with your job, which will.... MOTIVATE YOU TO KEEP DOING A GOOD JOB!

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