By Eric Brisbon

Many years ago, the term “motivation” was used extensively when discussing ways to enhance overall business operations and gain improvements. The purpose of the mantra was to inspire you, as a leader, to get your people motivated. Theoretically, this would then result in acts of goodness. Seminars blossomed, programs were developed, and many people got very rich while promoting the idea of doing motivational things. As a matter of fact, some probably are still benefiting financially from this motivation movement. However, have you ever sat and thought about what type of things get you motivated?

I profess that the only thing that can motivate you is you! No person on the planet can force you to be motivated, thus the idea to motivate a workforce is folly. The only thing that a company or person can do is give you the opportunity to be motivated, which then may yield some results.

Understandably, that is a slight twist of terms but an important one, nonetheless. Usually highly motivated people are happy people, and happy people tend to help an organization perform better. Consequently, progressive companies work to give their workforce opportunities to be motivated. This can take many forms included Kaizen events, educational programs, tailored managerial philosophies, flex time, etc. However, they are all fundamentally aimed at the same thing; a motivated workforce.

We should also address the elephant on the page which is compensation. Ask several people about what motivates them, and money is a standard and easy answer. No doubt people want to earn a fair day’s wage for an honest day’s work. If you feel that you are grossly underpaid for what you do, that’s a motivator in itself to find another job. Conversely, if you doubled the pay of everyone in your workforce tomorrow would anything change? Take the example of the young CEO who paid everyone $70,000 per year. How did that work out for him? While compensation must be part of any program to aid overall performance, if done fairly it is not much of a motivator. If done unfairly, it’s a big motivator for employees to move on or worse yet, stay and be really grumpy.

AMBAC International focuses on education and direct employee involvement to help with motivational opportunities. We practice a total open book management approach (The Great Game of Business by Jack Stack) allowing our entire company to understand that what they do and how they do it impacts our overall performance. We run series of “games” aimed at specific problem solving, which is totally cross functional and fun. We even offer prizes at the end for successful completion. Anyone can create a game, be part of a team or be supported with tools and learning to achieve a positive end goal. We all celebrate (or commiserate) as one team!

So, the next time that you are sitting in a conference room discussion about ways to get your team in gear, remember it’s not about getting them motivated, it’s about giving them the opportunity to be motivated. That’s the big management challenge.