Business leaders and manager at all levels usually agree on one thing: It’s a constant challenge to keep others in the work environment motivated and productive. This is especially true given the reality that what drives one person, can be quite different than what drives another. Thus, to be effective in creating a maximally productive work environment, it’s crucial to understand on an individual basis exactly what motivates each unique person you are trying to influence. So with this in mind, here are several different examples or prototypes of people you might find in the workplace and what’s most likely to inspire optimal productivity in each. Believe it or not, these characteristics even correspond with the stages of development as humans by which each individual views his or her career. By understanding what drives each unique member of your team, you can effectively tailor the approach you use to get the most out of each person you’d like to motivate.
Some people are principally motivated by the simple belief that their job is secure and the reassurance that their work won’t become too hard or overwhelming. When motivating someone like this, accept their limitations and avoid pushing them toward advancement (which may feel to them like more of a threat than a reward, whether or not they admit it). Assuming that their work is satisfactory, however, continue to assure them of their security by maintaining consistency in their tasks, so they remain capable of sufficiently doing their jobs.
For others, the structure itself that exists within a company or organization is a perfect ongoing motivator for those who thrive in environments with clear and perhaps even rigid rules, procedures and guidelines. Doing what is expected, not making waves and staying on “the good side” of the authority is what keeps them going on a day-to-day basis as well as their power to “rule” their subordinates. Military type operations and certain large companies are good examples of where these people thrive. For these employees, provide positive reinforcement for following procedures and rules or doing things “by the book”. However, like the first group, avoid pushing them out of their comfort zones.
For many, it’s the opportunity to impress others or receive praise or validation, since their primary motivator is actually to gain recognition or approval from others. While you might correctly assume that practically everyone likes the approval of others, some people actually need it to flourish and don’t do as well when they aren’t feeling validated. So take the time to recognize that these individuals are doing a good job, for example, in the form of awards (such as, “employee of the month”, etc.) to help them feel appreciated and as though they are part of a “family” that appreciates both the job they do and them as people . Any way you can convey the message to “keep up the good work” can have a huge impact.
In our society compensation via salary, perks or other tangible rewards and benefits is obviously the most common form of motivation offered; and for some employees, it’s enough to motivate them maximally. Such employees or coworkers respond best to such things as raises, bonuses, time off and better benefits.
Notice that it’s the employer—managers or company policy—that provides all of the motivators discussed so far. However, those who fall into the next two categories distinguish themselves by the fact that the principal way they are motivated is intrinsically or from within. In other words, they are most satisfied by doing and being challenged by what they love and feel passionate about. As a manager or supervisor, it is crucial to recognize such individuals for the unique abilities and inner drive to perform them that they can contribute to your mission, since they see their work as a calling and their work environment as a place to be creative and to apply their unique gifts and talents. They need enjoy their work; and fit best in an environment, which values their contribution. When these needs cease to be met, they will be most likely to burn out and seek a new assignment or environment where they can once again thrive. They feel best about their work and themselves, when given the opportunity and freedom to apply their unique magic to the task. My advice to managers regarding these individuals is to resist any micromanaging and remember that they bring the lion’s share of their own motivation to the table. The only other things they need are the opportunity, some broad direction, the resources to get the job done and a way to measure the impact of their contribution. I believe that anyone who is willing to do what it takes to let their passion be the guiding force in their career can join this category. When I coach people on career change, I teach them many ways to access this part of themselves.
The highest level of self-motivation comes from the opportunity to serve a purpose greater than oneself. This may be the commitment to play an important role in serving a cause one believes in or solving an important problem— that’s much larger than oneself. For these employees, the satisfaction of bettering the lives of others, changing some aspect of the world or simply giving back is what actually motivates them. In other words, they are beyond self-gratification in this part of their lives; and enjoying their work is far less important. When motivation appears to dwindle, it could be a sign that the work is done and/or another mission is ripe. At times they should also be reminded of the big picture, and how the impact of their contributions serve something larger.
So the next time you’re struggling to find a way to further one of your employee’s ability to thrive in the workplace, explore what he or she might really be needing—on an individual basis–to give you the best they’ve got. Consider the various possibilities. The key is to know what makes each employee ‘tick’. Of course, in the real world, most of us seek all of these motivators from time to time, but knowing a given person’s default position will go a long way toward both retention and helping them to serve your mission the best. I offer many more ways to both identify these and other motivational categories for any specific individual or group and how to apply proven strategies for maximum results in the work setting as well as other areas of life in my new book Stage Climbing: The Shortest Path to Your Highest Potential. As a business leader, never forget the power that a highly motivated team can deliver.