Secrets to motivating staff as easy as 1-2-3

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James M. Berklan
James M. Berklan

Best-selling author Daniel Pink laid it on the line at the recent LeadingAge annual meeting to vividly illustrate why simple “if-then” reward scenarios — which are suitable for basic tasks — won't cut it in long-term care.

The three keys to achieving motivation are: autonomy, mastery and performance.

Autonomy wrongly flies in the face of many traditional management concepts rooted in a drive for compliance, Pink noted. Human beings, however, “don't engage by being managed or controlled. They engage by getting there under their own steam.”

He also pointed out surveys show employees admire bosses who have high standards and promote worker autonomy.

The second characteristic of better motivation — mastery — reflects a desire to get better at what one does. Research has shown that people believe their best workdays are when they can see they have made progress.

Manager feedback is the key, Pink emphasized, calling corporate America a “wasteland” when it comes to providing such evaluations.

His tips included holding weekly one-on-one meetings with employees instead of annual performance reviews. These quick affairs plum what the employee is working on and what he or she needs. However, every fourth week, he suggested, a “twist” should be thrown in, such as asking about an employee's “love” and “loathe” list.

He also urged daily recording of accomplishments so that a tangible archive of results exists after a while. Using the electronic “iDonethis” program, as he does, or simply writing three things that one did well each day can do the trick. 

The final concept Pink focused on was sense of purpose. Work is enhanced when workers can see “why” they're doing what they are doing. This concept can be manifest by cooks who improve quality after seeing who is standing in line, for example.

Too often managers will engage in “how” discussions — either instructing how something should be done or otherwise pestering workers with how they are going to approach a task.

The why behind a job or task is the pathway to greater motivation, Pink stressed. People may ultimately want to make a difference, but on a day-to-day basis they want “to make a contribution.” 

There's nothing more important than every employee knowing if he or she doesn't show up one day, someone will notice and care.