In one of recent posts I touched the subject of motivation. The article was about typical motivational efforts which don’t work. I brought a few of meta-examples like telling people how much they are responsible for the project/organization, building bonus system which tries to address the problem or public critic as a way to make people care.
In one of comments Ryszard pointed that I just throw these examples as some universal truths like preacher who believes he knows it all and doesn’t really care to explain anything. Well, Ryszard might have used different words, but you get the message.
I guess that’s a time of storytelling then. In won’t be purely on systemic approaches to motivation but it is definitely the leitmotif of the post.
Yet Another Perfect Bonus System
This one is usually a problem of top management. Do I try to tell you that top managers suck at motivation? Well, I’m not sure yet, but looks like this might be another (unplanned) conclusion of these stories.
In vast majority of organizations any additional remuneration is treated as the main (hopefully not the only) motivation booster. Money is overrated as motivation driver but I wouldn’t be so quick in dismissing its motivational value at all. Anyway every bonus system has some input which varies from totally subjective judgment gathered from a group of managers to very complex formulas which allegedly delivers objective feedback about every employee. And of course bonus system has also some output which is a list of names and amounts of money.
Now top management steers the bonus system in order to maximize desired effect. It looks like that: some important guy comes with idea the main problem of organization is low sale volumes. So he tweaks the system to promote big fat contracts. And big fat contracts of course come but, shit happens, they are totally complicated and the company struggle to deliver on time and on scope. No one remember that “on budget” even exists in some ideal world out there.
Top management sees a problem with project quality so they change bonus system in a way that people are dependent on a success of their projects. So what people start to care about is to have big budget and fairly friendly customer and if they can’t join one of these projects they don’t give a damn because their bonus is doomed anyway.
So the system is tweaked once more to bond bonus money with results of the whole company which, at bad times, ends up with lack of engagement even on these projects which would be profitable otherwise. And so on and so forth. At the end of the day no one is really motivated.
Reorganization For The Win
Motivation is a tricky bastard. Once it is in place it should remain unchanged if environment isn’t tweaked but unfortunately it tends to wear out. Well, maybe there should be more new leaders who would ignite people around. So let’s promote our best engineers to leaders or even better to managers. Oh, that would be great. We’ll also have these small teams which generally work better.
Except new so-called leaders are often chosen pretty much randomly, basing on their engineering skills, not leadership abilities managerial skills. What more the way between a line worker who does the real job and decision-maker becomes longer and longer.
But it was supposed to be about motivation, right? Well, how motivating it is to have a mediocre manager over your head? Not much I guess. How motivating it is to see people who are promoted in pretty random way? Well, not so much either.
And then it appears the organization doesn’t work as smoothly as planned and management orders a kind of rollback. Teams are merged which means there are some managers left with no teams, which is a nice way of saying “downgraded.” Since it is systemic change most likely not skills stand behind decisions but the change just affects a group of people no matter who were doing well and who were below average.
With each change motivation is drained out of few people. Slowly. Systemically.
Think about greatest motivational moments of history. All these famous speeches in front of huge crowds. This just must work. Well, yes. No. Sort of.
Now recall last C-level exec who was talking to you. How much of motivation he ignited in you? I guess the answer is likely “none.” Even more, pretty often the result is opposite – people leave the room drained of their motivation thinking “what a jerk.”
Why? Because it really does matter what kind of speaker you are. I believe I’m able to deal with small groups of people. But if you asked me to try to ignite a hundred of them I’d probably fail. And I think I’m not that bad at speaking after all. I often see folks who fail to motivate 5 people sitting in a room just because they utterly suck at communication.
They may forget that situation of people they speak at (they don’t speak to, they speak at) is different than theirs and so are their drivers to do a good job. They may reject the fact that people don’t like to be told how to do their work and just showing the goal and letting people to figure it out works much better. I don’t really know. But what I know is that so-called motivational speeches can do at least as much bad as good. Especially when speaker is crappy, which means that vast majority of people who try to deliver motivational speeches qualify.
You Have the Power, I Tell You
Have you ever heard from your manager that you’ve been responsible for the whole company? Not just for a small piece you’ve ruled but for the whole big company you worked for. Of course you’ve been (allegedly) responsible for it along with others sitting at the same table but still. You likely have heard it. I’ve heard it a number of times.
Have you felt empowered? Me either. Why?
Usually these are words only. You don’t get real power to be able to change anything significant. To feel your importance. To feel this responsibility you’re told about. And even if you happen to have some power your efforts are turned down. Every single time you try to change something.
And then you see your colleagues sitting silently, doing nothing, definitely not feeling responsible for anything and you learn this is the way to go. After all these are words only. And words alone motivate very rarely.
I know at least a few managers of this kind. Surprisingly enough, vast majority of them are pretty high in pecking order so it may be something which gets you promoted. At least in some organizations. What I think about is knowing it all better and publicly pointing everybody else how wrong they are or, to put it short, affection for public critic.
If you ever been a part of senior management meeting or steering committee or pretty much any other meeting with some VIP who publicly run someone down this is exactly the situation I have in my mind. I can only guess here but I think a driver for such behavior is expectation that when you vent at people they would react trying to satisfy you next time.
And this is basically stupid.
The first reaction of normal person for such situation is feeling humiliated. It rhymes with motivated (well, not exactly) but that’s not the same really. People facing the situation bring their defenses which mean either trying to find explanation or pointing fingers or switching to a catatonic state when no more unpleasant message reaches their brains. Either way no constructive discussion happens and no empowerment (a buzz word, I know) is possible.
If you look for a way to motivate people you have to find what drives them, which means you need to learn what that might be in the first place. Public critic results people refusing to talk with you when they aren’t forced to which drives your chances to motivate down.
All these situations have one thing in common. It is failing to understand what drives individuals and why. You know what motivates you but it is highly unlikely 3 other randomly chosen guys from your organization are driven by the same things. Especially if you are in top management and they are not.
Yes, the higher you are the more options you have to do something about motivation but because you don’t really know people who you try to manipulate… um… I mean motivate, you’re likely to fail. Especially if you throw the same solution at every possible problem and every possible person.
If you made it this far and are willing to share more stories about failed motivational efforts you’re more than welcome.