Tuesday, April 7, 2009

What Really Motivates Employees to Excel

There may be only a few times in a person's life where they finally figure something out, to the point of saying out loud, "Ah, ha!  Now I get it!"  I just had one of those moments, and what was so nice about it was the fact that it validates what I've been preaching for a very long time; Corporate America simply doesn't know how to manage its employees.  They don't really understand the biological motivational factors that makes us tick; that gets us to perform our jobs at maximum capacity.

The author of a book (Primal Management) that is due out in another week or so, Paul Herr, was interviewed at length (one and a half hours) about his theory that human beings are driven by five basic, biological instincts that essentially determine what motivates us to enjoy our work and be productive, if we're allowed to let those instincts flourish.

Of course, as one might suspect, in the real world of Corporate America, only 31% of us are happy with our jobs.  In other words, 69% of us have "bad attitudes"; we don't like our jobs, especially since we don't like our managers.  What Herr is suggesting will probably sound far-fetched to the bland, passionless majority of Corporate America, but it makes perfect sense for me; a guy  who despises corporate bureaucratic hierarchies, and their regimented and micro-managing style of dealing with employees.

Herr's concept of management is to encourage our human instincts for fulfillment in our jobs, resulting in a more efficient staff, better customer service, and of course, a better bottom line.  He's estimating that the general lack of productivity in Corporate America is taking about two or three trillion dollars out of the economy.  How's that for a Stimulis Package?

Just as humans instinctively practice the art of survival by eating food and drinking water, our brains have five motivational "hot buttons" that need to be fulfilled if we are to not only like our jobs, but do them in the most efficient way possible.  Here are those five primal, biological motivational factors that need to flourish if we're to flourish in our professons:

1) Being allowed to think of newer and better ways to do stuff; to advance, technologically.  We need to be able to release our creative instincts in a positive and rewarding environment.  Too often, creativity is pushed aside by management who fears change.  Conformity is the safest approach; maintaining the status-quo is the way to stay out of trouble.  Of course, that philosophy is the best strategy to produce an underperforming, unhappy work environment; and that's the real trouble, folks.

2) Being trained properly to allow the employees to achieve a high level of skill in performing their tasks.  Herr equates that warm feeling of satisfaction to the excitement you derive from hitting the perfect golf shot.  You always feel good about yourself when you're able to do certain things better than just about anybody else; so, a well trained and efficient employee tends to be a happy camper; even if they can't hit a golf ball to save their lives.  Maybe they're great bowlers instead; and of course, their proficiency at making widgets thrills them to the point of giddiness; they come into work smiling, and reluctantly leave their work station when the boss tells them to go home, but are very satisfied with their skills and take great pride in their work.

3) Achieving goals; challenge employees to continually be more productive; give them  specific goals, and praise them for their accomplishments; again, this simply builds the employees' self-esteem, creating a nice feeling of self-fulfillment.

4) Cooperation and teamwork; everyone working together to achieve a common goal.  In this environment, there's no fueding, jealousy, or overly competitive and insecure employees trying to look better than the next guy; everybody's just doing their jobs proficiently, and they're all rooting for each other to keep up the good work.  Finger pointing and backstabbing don't exist in this environment.

5) Self-protection; this is the "button" the good manager will make sure doesn't get pushed.  By giving non-threatening advice; constructive criticism; employees won't feel like they may be getting replaced at any moment.  Those poor Enterprise employees last fall had to be absolutely devestated when the company broke its 50 plus year tradition of never laying off a single employee.  Just like that, thousands were let go, and of course, that leaves the employees who survived that initial wave of firings to feel more than just a little defensive and paranoid that they may be next to go.  Under this type of environment, employee morale is as low as it can go, and the remaining disgruntled workers start developing surly attitudes towards their managers, their fellow workers, and of course, even the poor customers. 

The best managers will give their employees as much autonomy as possible, to allow them the chance to keep developing their skills and give them that wonderful feeling of accomplishment which in turn gives them a nice feeling of high self-esteem.  It's a great place to work; everybody's one big happy family, supporting their fellow employees and striving to keep improving.

This formula for success is simple common sense.  All we're doing is letting every employee's natural desires to feel like they're part of the grand plan, flow smoothly throughout the organization.  Let's hope this starts happening very soon, in America.

The question is, can the mindset of an erroneous way of doing business be changed, quickly, in a nation full of bureaucrats in corporate hierarchies in hundreds of corporations?  Do you believe in miracles?

America needs another miracle, ladies and gentlemen.  It's time to revolutionize our way of doing business; to free our workers from  the tyranny of the bosses from hell, and get this country back on track again.



  1. Hi Larry,

    Thanks for the nice preview of PM. I wrote the book for progressive managers like you--people who belive, deep in their gut, that traditional management doesn't work very well (fails to get the best out of people).

    I wanted to prove, using logic, facts and the latest science, that people and motivation matter. I wanted to make my case so clear and compelling that corporate America would be shamed into changing it's bureacratic, impersonal, hyper-rational ways.

    I formed a twitter group called "NaturalManagement" where management revolutionaries can meet to share ideas and plan the overthrow of traditional, bureaucratic, command-and-control management. Just go to tweetworks.com, click on "browse groups" and navigate to "NaturalManagement." Natural management, by the way, refers to management policies that align harmoniously with human nature. I recently formed this group so you can be a charter member!

    If you'd like to get REALLY involved, you can join a private ning community called www.managementrevolutionaries.ning.com. I will send you an invitation if you are interested.

    Viva la Revolucion!

    Paul Herr
    Author of Primal Management

  2. Larry,
    I enjoy your writing.
    I'm an 18+ year ERAC'r in Tennessee.
    One of Roger Price's boys.
    Now one of Gottschalk's boys.
    Keep those posts irreverent!


    David Praet