It’s not the things we often point to

“I’d never thought to think about what motivates the people on my team,” a leadership participant of mine said recently on a course I was delivering.  Interestingly we often think we know, so we don’t bother to do any deep reflection on this question.  More money.  More kudos for the things we do.  More power, perhaps a promotion, advancing another rung on the org chart.

These are the typical answers I hear when I ask that question.  The reality is different.  Let’s take money first, that’s the one I hear most often.  Despite what you might think, money isn’t a motivator for people.  However, it can be a de-motivator if pay is not fair or up to market rate.  It’s what organizational psychologists often refer to as a hygiene factor.  Once people are paid at market rate, an increase in pay does very little to affect an employee’s overall level of engagement or motivation.

I see this quite often in my career coaching practice.  Folks will come to me for career coaching and say things like, “They offered me a bunch more money to stay, and I was excited for about a week.  And now I want to leave again.”

The 4 Key Drivers of Motivation

So, money isn’t the answer to the question.  But if it’s not money, then what is?  Motivation really boils down to 4 key things that in my experience, often get overlooked at a managerial level.  And this is worth paying attention to considering Gallup has estimated that 70% of the reason an employee quits their job has to do with their boss:

  • Purpose:  How connected am I to my work?  Is it serving a higher purpose?  Is it creating tangible value?  How is my work serving my values?

That feeling of connection, that sense of purpose in what you do is valuable.  And it’s the number one thing that people want when they come to me for career coaching, particularly when they’re looking to transition their career.  I hear all the time lack of purpose or connection to something.  As a manager, your job is to help people see that their work matters.  To help connect the dots and help your team see their contribution to the bigger picture.

  • Recognition:  To what extent is my work and contribution valued by others?  How is my work recognized?  Is it in a way that is meaningful to me?

The interesting thing about recognition is that it can look very different to different people.  It might be in public.  It might be in private.  The point is that as a manager, it helps to ask to understand how your people like to receive it.  Cultural influences can also affect this, I remember back to when I worked in the UK.  I noticed that most Brits shied away from public recognition, like in a team meeting or a team setting.  Whereas we Americans often like our horn to be tooted in public. 

  • Autonomy:  How much freedom do I have in my work to do it the way I see fit?  What decisions do I have the latitude to make on my own?

Autonomy is often referred to as the freedom to do my job in the way that makes the most sense to me.  Freedom to create.  Freedom to explore.  Freedom from micromanagement.  Are you a manager that tends to dictate exactly how the sausage should be made?  If so, you’re inadvertently creating a lack of engagement most likely with more experienced or senior team members.

  • Development/Mastery:  Are there opportunities for growth?  To what extent does my manager prioritize my growth and development?

If you only have a development conversation with your staff once or twice a year in prep for the annual review, you’re missing the boat on this one.  Make 5-10 minutes of each 1:1 you have with your staff a check in on their development.  For many highfliers, this is what matters the most.  And I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard from coachees, “there was no space to grow.”

Coaching Questions for Thought:

  • How would you rate your managerial skill when it comes to the above aspects of motivation?  Which of the 4 aspects do you do well and where are your gaps? 
  • What’s currently missing from your leadership? 
  • What would it cost you if your top talent abruptly quit? 

Shelley Pernot is a leadership and career coach who is passionate about helping her clients discover their strengths and talents and find a career that utilizes them.  Reach out to me here for a free consultation to learn more about the coaching process and how it may benefit you!

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