Motivation by the Book

“If only our employees were motivated, then we’d get the results we need.” How many times have you heard a similar statement at work?

Motivation–one of the most difficult pieces in the management puzzle. Most of us agree that motivation is a key to employee performance; our Management 101 textbooks taught us that. But after a few years in the trenches, trying to develop, reward, and improve people’s performance, we begin grabbing for any old bit of the motivational jigsaw. In frustration, we attempt to jam ill-suited pieces into place. As HRD professionals, our understanding of human behavior positions us well to be leaders in workplace performance. Now is the time to delve further than our business or psychology classes taught us about motivation.

Two recent primers on the subject are Motivation Management: Fueling Performance by Discovering What People Believe About Themselves and Their Organizations by Thad Green and Intrinsic Motivation at Work: Building Energy and Commitment by Kenneth W. Thomas. Both books discuss motivation through distinct learning structures, present models for understanding it, and provide tools to diagnose gaps.

Green’s expertise comes from years as a management professor and entrepreneur. He says, “Motivation is the fuel for performance. Without fuel, performance suffers.” Though there’s nothing revolutionary in that statement, readers will learn how to diagnose motivation or performance problems early and apply one of the approaches Green outlines.

The greatest value in Motivation Management is in the practical (though perhaps not easy to understand at first) Belief System Model. It gives managers insight into how people respond to extrinsic rewards. Green explains, “What an employee believes in is more important than what is offered to motivate.” He maintains that a person’s beliefs while using the model–a process that moves from effort to satisfaction–show up in three forms: confidence (in oneself), trust (in others), and satisfaction (with rewards).

Green uses storytelling to connect his concepts to the real world and to share deeper insights. More than 50 supporting stories are sprinkled throughout and listed for future reference. Depending on your learning style and preference, the stories can be helpful or a distraction. I found myself reading some and passing over others. Either way, because the stories are presented as an option, the structure works.

In the second book, Thomas shares insights gained from experience as a professor of management at leading universities and as the developer of the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument. Thomas says that employee motivation has changed–from extrinsic rewards with external demands for worker compliance to intrinsic rewards with acknowledgement of a competitive environment that insists on self-managed workers.

Thomas weaves “A Management Tale” throughout the first two sections of the book and concludes the narrative in section three. The tale is an interesting device that catches up readers on the history of the workplace and the shift from compliance to self-management. The tale is short and contiguous from one section to the next, so it moves readers along while imparting important information.

Thomas also provides a model and a way to diagnose potential problems. His model focuses specifically on intrinsic rewards (based on internal feelings):
* a sense of meaningfulness
* a sense of purpose
* a sense of choice
* a sense of competence.

He explains, “A drop in one of those feelings is a sign of trouble.”

Intrinsic Motivation at Work: Building Energy and Commitment has value for managers and for people who are aware of their own need for self-management.

Thomas provides that value by explaining how to be a positive influence on intrinsic motivation. Chapters 7 through 10 present actions that encompass more than job design; they initiate collaboration with individual workers to achieve the goal of the book’s title, building energy and commitment into our workplaces.

The main difference in the two books is the focus on intrinsic versus extrinsic rewards. Green briefly touches on the difference, in terms of outcomes, but his model provides a tool that, managers can use to understand and align both types of motivation for workers. As his book’s title suggests, Thomas zeros in on complexities of intrinsic rewards.

We have much to learn and understand about diagnosing and supporting individual motivation. One book can’t possibly provide all the necessary insight, but in addition to explaining motivation, both books contribute to the development of our profession. The authors remind us that all workers should not be treated the same. Each person is individual, and mismatched pieces of standard management practice and rewards for the masses are no longer acceptable. It’s our job to pick up those ideas and become leaders in enhancing workplace performance.

Motivation Management: Fueling Performance by Discovering What People Believe About Themselves and Their Organizations, by Thad Green. 268 pp. Palo Alto, California: Davis-Black Publishing, US$29.95 Circle 290 on reader service card.

Intrinsic Motivation at Work: Building Energy and Commitment, by Kenneth W. Thomas. 140 pp. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, US$24.95 Circle 291 on reader service card.
Deanne Bryce is president of Leader-strength Systems, Souderton, Pennsylvania;
COPYRIGHT 2000 American Society for Training & Development, Inc.
COPYRIGHT 2001 Gale Group

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