How to best motivate your employees

by 03 Nov 2009

Managers who understand the motivations of their staff will be better able to nurture and sustain their employees’ self-confidence, especially during challenging climates, and manage their performance beyond the formal performance management process.

Helen Ormond, program director, Mt Eliza Executive Education, part of Melbourne Business School, said that employees are currently feeling high levels of anxiety, fear and even panic about losing their jobs or having to reduce their hours as well as the strain of increased workloads as their companies reduce headcount.

“Many employees are also suffering from the survivor syndrome of feeling guilty about keeping their jobs when their colleagues are retrenched and some employees may be more resilient and, therefore, better able to cope with the strains of work,” she said.

Managers need to recognise that basic neurobiological differences between people exist. People are fundamentally different and respond differently to different contexts and situations, and the way they are managed needs to be different for each employee.

Giles Burch, an associate at Mt Eliza Executive Education, said that these differences between people depend on individual personality characteristics; but there’s increasing evidence that personality and motivation are hard-wired to some extent in the brain.

Reinforcement Sensitivity Theory (RST) suggests that people proactively behave to seek a reward, such as a bonus, or inhibit their behaviour that may lead to the avoidance of punishment which, in itself, serves as a reward.

Burch’s research into RST at the University of Auckland found that transformational leadership is associated with increased reward-seeking behaviour, while laissez-faire leadership is associated with managers’ increased punishment avoidance behaviours.

“These individual sensitivities are not included in performance management processes and systems as a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach tends to be the norm. So the question arises as to where this leaves the manager with detailed KPIs embedded in the ‘one size fits all’ system or leading a major organisational transformation strategy,” said Burch.

“If managers are attuned to basic neurobiological differences in their staff they can develop strategies for managing staff and their anxieties accordingly, such as informal and formal communication about organisational changes that support those seeking reward as well as those seeking to avoid punishment,” he said.

Managers can also develop a self-awareness of their own management style at any given time, he says, whether it’s transformational or laissez-faire, and its impact on different employees.


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