There are many different ideas on how to motivate staff, but the one thing that everyone can agree on is that if you are able to motivate them, then the results can be amazing.
If you look at any high performing company, in any sector, then you will find they have a very motivated workforce. Is this a chicken and egg problem? Which came first – the motivated staff to drive results or the results successes giving motivation back to the people?
Having worked with many companies in many sectors I know this ‘good motivational spiral’ to be true, and indeed the ‘downwards motivational spiral’ can be true too. The other thing I have noticed is that ‘loyalty’ – the desire for people to put in extra effort through a sense of pride and belonging – can be a factor, but only if the unit is small enough.
Creating Shareholder Value
Over the last 10 years there has been the on-going trend towards ‘global’ companies and ‘matrix’ organisations. This has had an interesting effect on loyalty – it has broadly destroyed it.
The bigger the company, the more they re-organise and constantly restructure, the less people appear to identify with it. The concept of creating shareholder value as a key goal is still talked about in big companies, but almost nobody (apart from very few at the top who hold massive share options) actually cares. Why should they put in extra work just so that some anonymous pension fund can make more money in 10 years time?
What is interesting is how loyalty can still be a real motivator if you can make your ‘unit’ feel that it has an identity of its own, and that the people in it can see how their extra effort can have a direct result on helping others who they work with or interact with directly.
The motivational psychologist Victor Vroom ( what a great name for someone studying motivation – VROOM!) had four ‘gateways’ of motivation that you had to pass before anyone would be motivated. In simple terms its ‘Could. Would. Would. Desire’. Could I do it? Would it make a difference that I can see? Would anyone notice? Do I desire the outcome? The middle two gateways are focussed on this area of belonging – if I can see my actions make a difference and people notice then that can be a great motivator. If I have to go through some massive IT change that is only of benefit to people in head office who I never meet then I am not going to be motivated to do anything more than the minimum required.
Losing a Sense of Belonging?
This then prompts the question of how big a unit needs to be before you lose this sense of belonging? My experience is that firstly they can be very small – a group of 6 people in a depot or office unit can build a great sense of loyalty. At the other end of the scale I think 100 people starts to get to the limit.
I worked with an incredibly successful Belgium food company. Even though their world wide network of sellers came from 40 different countries, the total group was only about 90 people and the sense of loyalty, even in this highly dispersed and nationally diverse situation, was amazing. Likewise you can go to massive head offices of 1000 people all in one building and nobody feels any connection at all.
There is a dark side to this – get too strong a sense of loyalty to a small unit and you run the risk of many small silo mentalities causing the matrix to malfunction. This is always a risk in modern business –but my challenge would be that we are better off creating really strong identities in smaller groups.
Do not try and get a corporate sense of belonging, you will waste your time. Nobody really cares about your corporate behavioural values – too many people can see how they are not being lived out in big corporations so they just destroy the sense of belonging, not enhance it. Instead think small – how can we bring back that sense of common purpose.
Perhaps we should take a lesson from history – go back to roman times and start organising our companies in units of 100 and no more. Wouldn’t you just love to have on your business card the job title ‘Centurion’ – that really would be motivating!