It seems like years ago that I learned several employee motivation theories.  Interestingly these motivational theories have been developed and in use for up to 70 years yet there are many business owners who have not had the opportunity to learn about them nor understand how their use can benefit the financial performance of a company.

Two significant theories of employee motivation included Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and Douglas McGregor’s theory X and theory Y.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Briefly the hierarchy of needs suggests that people are motivated to fulfill basic needs before moving on to other needs.  In they context of job pay and job design, Maslow’s 2nd level, Safety, satisfies pay.  Since this theory was advanced in 1943 hundreds of studies have researched what workers want more of.  From my perspective, the answer has always been rather simple.

McGregor’s Theory X and Theory Y

McGregor’s theory X and theory Y, introduced in 1960, was a further refinement of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and presumes management is responsible for assembling the factors of production, including its personnel, for the economic benefit of the firm. Theory X assumes employees are inherently lazy and will avoid work if they can and that they inherently dislike work.  Theory Y assumes employees may be ambitious and self-motivated and exercise self-control.  A theory Y manager believes that, given the right conditions, most people will want to do well at work.

I believe that consciously or subconsciously employees do strive towards a more self-actualized environment.  To some degree I practiced these over the years because, in many respects, they seemed to make sense, there were not other more compelling theories or practices, and well, I needed something to help me in the management and motivational efforts of my fellow employees.  Oh yes, and when put into practice it made my job much easier.

My Gut Check

employee motivationAfter a short period, I remember that my gut took hold.  I needed to manage a larger and growing number of employees and that required the development of communication patterns that made sense.  My gut was heavily influenced by my upbringing.

That upbringing influenced me to act in a trusting manner, to have an open and objective attitude towards others, to make balanced decisions, and to help others achieve their highest potential by respecting and recognizing their individual and collective worth.  I understand better how these four components work in a business setting to help clarify the importance of the how and why of motivating others.

Taking Responsibility

One of the first talents I understood was to take responsibility for those who worked with me.  This was important because it was appropriate that if I was leading and directing them towards the accomplishment of certain tasks and activities then I should take responsibility for their actions, the good and the bad.  I worked with them to understand why things went wrong and would help to make corrections to ensure future success.

I think that by doing so it helped to gain the trust of my fellow employees.  They understood that I would not “throw them under the bus,” nor abandon them.  Additionally, they understood that I was willing to stand with them to accomplish those tasks and activities.

Open and Objective Attitude

Secondly, my ability to have an open and objective attitude towards others helped my fellow employees approach me with questions or concerns about their performance.  Being approachable and open creates a “safe zone” for employees to be able to be creative, try different ways of accomplishing tasks, and generate positive change.  This talent encouraged a freer flow and exchange of ideas and communication focused on improving performance.

Listen To All Sides

Third, my upbringing helped instill a need to listen to all sides, to weigh alternatives, and when considering my interests, other employees’ interests, and the interests of the company it helped employees I worked with to seek me out and engage in a discussion so that we could develop a more informed, participative, and balanced decision.

Unique Strengths and Weaknesses

Fourth, I tried to identify each person’s unique strengths and weaknesses and worked with them to apply these to the performance of their job for their own and the organization’s benefit.  Too often employees are told they can’t do a task.  Applied consistently this talent helps others to more fully develop their true talents for their own and the company’s benefit, and helps others appreciate better other employee’s true talents.

Integration Challenges

Integrating each of these practices into a continuous, intuitive process does not occur without focused effort.  It is important to quantify how an increase in employee motivation will improve financial performance in a business.  The more you can quantify the financial results through the use of these motivational practices the easier it will be for both employees and business owners to see the benefit of the practices.

It makes sense that if a business wants to quantify the financial results from improved motivational practices then the owner should ask how to quantify where performance is suffering and why motivation is low in order to establish a benchmark for improvement.

You can do this in two ways – first you can measure performance with standard business metrics; second, you can measure owner and employee current state talents, motivations, and behavioral preferences with a diagnostic profile and you can also measure improvements to this over time.  Creating a more effective motivational environment for employees does result in improved financial performance.  You can measure that in $$ and Smiles.