Motivation and Your Achilles’ Heel

Most managers and leaders are very keen to learn what motivates their employees; and for a good reason. If we understand that then we might be able to reward and incentivise them appropriately and this could have – would have – a big impact on their performance and productivity. Less time, however, is spent on considering the factors which do not motivate or can positively de-motivates staff. More subtly still, the factors which Hertzberg, the famous researcher in this area, called the ‘Hygiene Factors’. As I have written before:

“Your lowest motivational score can be very revealing. The top three motivators are more exciting, but noting our lowest motivator can also give useful clues about improving our motivation and our life. First, ask the question: is my lowest motivator causing me a problem? We sometimes call this a hygiene factor, which means that the motivator does not motivate us, but its absence can lead to de-motivation.”

One of the really fascinating aspects of motivation is the idea of hygiene factors. It would be very easy to focus on someone’s top three motivators – or a team’s or whole organisation’s – and think one had the job done. But we must constantly be aware that all nine motivators are related in the psyche and so effect each other, whatever their rank order is. Indeed, the least important motivator in terms of its effect on our motivation is – paradoxically – vitally important for our overall welfare.

What Hertzberg meant by a hygiene factor was some aspect of the work that did not motivate the individual, but its absence might become extremely de-motivating. So, for example, people in an organisation, may not be motivated by tea/coffee or canteen refreshments, but the absence of their availability over time in the work place may seriously begin to demotivate the staff and lead them to take a negative view of management. This idea is taken a stage further when think of mapping motivations and getting a fuller picture of an individual. Perhaps the synonym for ‘hygiene factors’ that would best convey what exactly extra I mean is: ‘Achilles’ Heel’. That the absence of some motivators – in a given context, not in an absolute sense – may prove to be extremely detrimental to the performance (and so work well-being) of an individual (and also read team and organisation). In other words, it can be a very real weakness impacting performance at a profound level.

Some examples here might best illustrate what I mean. Take the ‘making a difference’ motivator. Making a difference is always for someone or for some group. The essence of making difference means having a customer/client focus. Suppose then that one is appointed to a role where customer focus is the very essence of the role, AND suppose that the making a difference motivator is the lowest drive in your profile. Problem? Well, the person may have the skill set, the qualifications, the previous experience to fulfil a customer service role, BUT – deep down – they don’t really get a buzz out of it. Hmm! Long term that will definitely prove to be a problem; and it may even be an issue short to medium term, depending on the severity of the issue.

Or take the being in charge motivator – the desire to control and manage – and imagine this being lowest in the profile of somebody applying for a management job? Or take the competitive desire for more money – and this being lowest in someone in a commission-led sales role? Or take the desire for freedom and autonomy – and the applicant applying for a desk job where every 10 minutes of their time has to be accounted for and charged out to a client? I could go through all 9 motivators and position them as number 9, the least important in someone’s profile, and then provide a job or role context in which that lack of drive might clearly be seen to have important implications for overall performance.

In this sense, then, it should be clear what I mean by an Achilles’ Heel; it is a weakness that can quite literally trip you up in the job you are doing, because ultimately you lose the desire, you lose the internal energy – the fire – that makes doing the role satisfying. One of the tragedies of work is that so few individuals understand this; if they did then they’d stop applying for jobs that can never satisfy them.

But we need to clear that seeking to map motivators isn’t just about analysing problems; it’s about providing solutions, and there are two solutions here that are extremely useful. One is to head off the problem before it arises: in other words, to use tools to map motivators in the recruitment process. Select more people to work in your organisation whose motivators match the roles you have available.! Sounds obvious but it will prove to be a wonderful and cost-effective way to help businesses head off the problem.

The second potential solution is what I call Reward Strategies. Organisations spend so much time doing a TNA – or training needs analysis – why not do a motivational needs analysis? And having done it also start compiling a list of creative and pointed ideas to compensate for the hygiene factor, and to enable managers to do the same. So, to take one example from above – and perhaps the most common – the ‘seeks control or to be in charge’ motivator as the lowest for someone in a management position? The key reward strategy here is to get the manager to accept that managing is not what they want to do and as a result to increase their knowledge and skill set in the one area that could compensate for ineffective or negligent management: namely, delegation skills. Even though one does not especially want to manage, if one has effective delegation skills one can become super-competent in this area. So that becomes the positive area to focus on.

Hopefully, as Hobbit Sam Gamgee says, “That’s a real eye-opener for sure!”

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