Last week I joined a group of managers in Athens, Texas for a coaching workshop. This class walks managers through several processes and resources designed to help them empower their teams with the goal of improving individual and team performance. I thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to share ideas and open discussion with so many dedicated leaders. I left exhausted and refreshed all at the same time.
One of the topics that came up repeatedly, and usually does during these workshops, was motivation. It seems that any time I speak with someone who’s responsible for the performance of others, talk eventually turns this direction. Managing people is a lot easier when they are motivated to perform. But few seem to understand how motivation works.
Motivation can be defined as “the reason for acting a certain way.” The problem with motivating other people though, is that they are people. Every person is unique and their reasons for engaging, or not engaging, in certain behaviors are unique to them. Unless you understand what’s driving them internally, you can’t effectively motivate them.
Many psychologists and sociologists have studied the concept of motivation. For years they’ve tried to identify the triggers that cause some people to approach their jobs with enthusiasm and dedication while others seem intent on giving the bare minimum. One of the first in the field was Abraham Maslow.
In a 1943 paper titled A Theory of Human Motivation, Maslow introduced his hierarchy of needs. The five levels of this hierarchy represent different drivers, or motivations, for human behavior. By uncovering what needs are driving an individual, Maslow believed you could understand why they acted the way they did. And by providing or withholding certain needs, you could then motivate someone to behave how you wanted or needed them to.
Maslow depicted the five levels as a pyramid, with the most basic of needs at the bottom. He suggested that, as basic needs are met, an individual turned their attention to higher level ones. The most basic needs – the bottom level of the pyramid – are “Physiological” needs. These include things like food, water, sleep, and air. Clothing and shelter are also physiological needs. Until these necessities are obtained, higher level needs take a backseat.
The second level consists of “Safety” needs. Here you find things like personal wellness and financial security. In the workplace, insurance and other benefits as well as job security represent safety needs.
Maslow called the third level “Belongingness.” Concepts such as family, friends, and intimacy make up this level. These may be satisfied by having friends at work, being involved in groups, and having mentors I and colleagues who take an interest in you.
At the fourth level, people address their need for “Esteem,” the need to be appreciated, valued, and recognized for their contribution. Promotions, positions of responsibility, and increasing levels of autonomy help to meet these needs.
The final level of Maslow’s hierarchy addresses “Self Actualization.” This refers to an individual’s need to engage in meaningful work. To be self-actualized, one needs to feel they are pursuing the work they are meant to do – work that taps into their innate gifts and passions. They must realize their full potential.
Many have expanded on Maslow’s work, but his theory remains a cornerstone of motivation theory. It suggests that we’re all unique, driven by our own set of goals, desires, and circumstances. And it supports the notion that managers are ill-prepared to motivate their teams – unless they get to know them.
So, what’s motivating the people on your team?