At least sometimes.
Can I start by saying what I don’t mean? Thanks. I knew you’d understand.
What I’m about to suggest should not be misconstrued to sound like I’m saying there shouldn’t be accountability on a team or within an organization. Nor should it be taken to mean I don’t believe in providing meaningful rewards and recognition when folks do exceptional work. Anyone who’s hung out with me for more than twelve seconds knows I’m a huge proponent of both of those things.
What I’d like to do, though, is see us continue to challenge ourselves to have more healthy and clear conceptions of what “motivation” and “accountability” really are, and to think appropriately about motivating and leading well within our respective contexts. Textbooks and professors would say I’m about to discuss the differences between transactional leadership and transformational leadership, and they’d be at least sort of right, though time and space won’t permit us to get very far into those ideas. But don’t tune me out just yet, because while most of us would be quick to say that we’re transformational leaders, my fear is that we’re far closer to the transactional style than we’d like to admit.
I’m fortunate in that I get to talk with lots of folks through a variety of channels. One question that I seem to hear relatively frequently is “How can I motivate my employees?” or something along those lines. It’s a great question, for sure; but the answer is a bit more complicated than carrots and sticks. Again, it’s not that we shouldn’t use appropriate accountability mechanisms; we should. But I think we have to understand that human motivation is a multi-faceted concept that deserves more thought and consideration.
For example, sometimes we inadvertently create systems wherein employees are reduced to some version of Pavlov’s pups, desperately working hard so they can receive a pat on the head instead of a slap on the wrist from their managers. What if instead of that, we worked toward created a compelling context within which our employees could work and thrive? What if, rather than relying only on carrots, sticks, and whatever else, we focused more on meaning and purpose?
(A quick aside here in regards to money: I’m not advocating we ignore the fact that money matters to people. Pay people well and fairly. My comments here are in regards to what we commonly refer to as “motivating” employees.)
We need to be thinking more about igniting the passion that lies within our fellow employees, about unleashing their sometimes-dormant potential. If you want to get all crazy and do some research, you could check out various motivation theories. Maslow would be a good place to start. I have to warn you though—it’s pretty fascinating stuff. And if you want someone to thank someone (or smack them upside the head, depending where you land on this) for the carrot and stick stuff, Sigmund Freud would be your guy. His basic thought was that humans were inherently unmotivated to work.
I say that’s bull. If Siggy and I were having coffee, I’d compliment his beard and then tell him he’s dead wrong about people in this regard. Sure, there are some lazy folks out there. But I think people generally want to do work that matters, and they want to do that work well.
So the challenge for us, then, is to figure out how to create space for people to grow into the human beings they’re meant to be. I know that sounds a little mystical, but it’s really true. Leaders within organizations have to find ways to motivate and engage their employees beyond simply passing out carrots for good behavior and bopping people with sticks when they don’t do what you want.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll continue preaching this until I wear you down, but having engaged, motivated employees is a huge competitive advantage in the market; and it’s not just me that thinks so. The challenge for us remains to continually and consistently evolve in our thinking about motivating, engaging, and leading our employees.
Matt Monge is VP of People & Development for Fort Campbell Federal Credit Union and the Principal Consultant for The Mojo Company. He was named one of Credit Union Times’ “Trailblazers 40 Below,” is a Training Magazine Top 125 award winner, and is a speaker, writer, and blogger. He is earning his graduate degree from Gonzaga University.