Are you restoring lost motivation to your company’s culture?




Bob Marley famously jammed: “No bullet can stop us now, we’ll neither beg nor we won’t bow…” His aspiration called for bold and brave actions, in keeping with the highest standards. However, most corporate executives don’t believe their employees are Marleys, William-Gordons or Bogles.


Instead, they complain: “Is pure Bredda Anansi we have!”


As a result, these leaders scoff at Bob’s next line: “…Neither can be bought nor sold.” Long ago, they gave up on such lofty visions for their staff. Now, their primary concern is paying the lowest wage-price possible to purchase just enough employee motivation to make a profit. It’s usually more than they think they can afford, which keeps them up at night, worrying.


If you try to convince them their people are better than this, watch as they pull out surveys to “prove” that staff only wants one thing: more money.


As I have reported in this column, research shows that such reactions are misleading. In fact, the pat answers, so easily believed, don’t match daily behaviour. A 5% increase in pay doesn’t, by itself, produce a corresponding increase in productivity. Executives who really want to motivate employees must reach past flawed data, mistaken reasoning and their own incorrect instincts to find better information which illuminates the truth.


The newest revelation arrives in the form of a method to measure each employee’s current reasons for working. According to the authors of Primed to Perform, Neel Doshi and Lindsay McGregor, there are six motivations which lie on a continuum.


Intrinsic motivator #1 – Play. Employees at this level do their jobs primarily because they love the activity. They lose themselves in their work and enjoy moments when they can engage in it wholeheartedly. They are often your highest performers.


Intrinsic motivator #2 – Purpose. In this case, staff members may not care for the work but they are driven by the immediate impact they have on other people, society or country. They put service above self.


Intrinsic motivator #3 – Potential. If the major benefit employees derive builds personal skills or capacity, it belongs in this category. In other words, their role leaves them more capable or better-positioned for the future.


Extrinsic motivator #1 – Emotional Pressure. This level involves trying to alleviate unwanted feelings such as guilt, shame or fear. They don’t come from the work itself but are linked with merely having a job.


Extrinsic motivator #2 – Economic Pressure. If rewards and punishments are driving individuals to perform, they are probably motivated by a sense of tangible gain or loss.


Extrinsic motivator #3 – Inertia. The work is being performed today only because it repeats what was done yesterday and the day before. This is perhaps the most deadening, unconscious state to be in.


Take a moment to scan your workforce one staff member at a time, assigning each person to a level. What do the combined results tell you about your company’s culture?


If your conclusion alarms you, consider the two following interventions.


  1. Teach managers to notice


motivation levels and act accordingly. Start by advising them that part of their job is, over time, to shift the distribution to the better motivators. Give them the tools, training, and other elements they need to coach people effectively.


One of the obstacles they may have to overcome is an inability to relate: the chances are high that they were promoted because they were already self-motivated. They must learn to get past their own achievement to reach employees who aren’t like them.


  1. Train employees to enrich their own experience. Most people simply don’t know how to shift themselves to being consistently intrinsically motivated. Instead, they operate as if their moods are random, along with their attitudes toward their work.


You may be concerned about the training cost. Much can be done on a low budget: usually, it’s the clear commitment from the top that’s missing. Just pick an approach from one of the main schools of thought and implement it systematically, starting with the executive team.


All worthwhile transformations include organisational leaders. As a member of top management, you can start by accepting the part you have played in contributing to the current state of employee motivation. Even if you recently joined the firm, the faster you take responsibility, the quicker you’ll be on the side of those who are trying to effect change.


It’s never easy to own the influence you have in an area so fraught with misunderstanding. Many of your colleagues may not see things the way you do. However, go ahead and launch an attempt: it can make a big difference in the lives of everyone in your enterprise.



Francis Wade is the author of Perfect Time-Based Productivity, a keynote speaker and a management consultant. Missed a column? To receive a free download with articles from 2010-2016, send email to


How Boards Innocently Get Themselves into Trouble


Members of company boards are accountable for solving a dilemma: how should they intervene when problems inside the organization crop up? Do they always give managers the benefit of their advice? Should they become coaches, perhaps even taking up operational roles to help implement solutions? My surprising suggestion: resist the temptation to aid, abet and enable weak individual performance.


Many board members unconsciously cling to the notion that their job should be an easy one. The perks are well known: a relatively small part-time commitment in exchange for the prestige of helping to run a communal entity. Sometimes, there is even remuneration.


What isn’t openly acknowledged is that the rules of the road are obscure. Most boards have enough turnover to prevent norms from becoming established. Instead, each new member brings with him/her fresh experiences. The benefit lies in their original contribution, but there’s a downside. Most companies don’t on-board such members very well, leaving them to learn how to be effective by the seat of their pants.


As a result, many boards may follow established conventions in their meeting rules, but not where it really counts: in their relationship with staff. If you are a board member, this represents an undefined, grey area.


Conversely, you know what to do with familiar challenges. In those cases, you can highlight early warnings and weigh in to prevent catastrophes. But if all board members do the same with staff, expect the following problems to occur, without fail.


Problem #1 – Becoming Individual Coaches

It all starts innocently, with a sincere plea for help. A manager in trouble reaches out to you, a board member who he or she trusts. You can’t say no… plus you get a quick ego-boost from showing the youngsters how things are done. After responding to additional calls you eventually slip quietly into the role of being an informal coach or mentor.


However, unknown to you, other board members are doing the same.


Before long, your meetings turn into trauma centres in which each member has their own compelling story of raging incompetence. Sometimes, the larger, unfortunate, truth emerges: you are all giving conflicting advice. By the time you meet, you have collectively sent the organization into a tailspin.


In summary, the board transforms into an uncoordinated coaching team. Now you are chasing small problems mistakenly elevating them from the bowels of the company where they truly belong. Over time, the big, hard challenges only a board can address go unattended.


Problem #2 – Being A Regular Presence vs. An Emergency Visitor

Some board members fancy themselves as an inexpensive alternative to management consultants and in fact, they might possess superior industry knowledge.


If you do so, understand the issue you could create.


Professional consultants do more than give advice. They craft high-trust, short-term relationships in order to see problems permanently solved before departing. Consequently, they set up crystal clear, written agreements as a necessary pre-requisite.


However, as a board member, you may not appreciate the importance of this distinction. You are not a peer – you are always the Boss’s Boss. Furthermore, you don’t have a temporary relationship. It’s permanent.


Finally, when a consultant gives advice, the onus is on the client to use it. Unfortunately, your “suggestion” can be heard as a board directive, whether you intend it to be or not.


The net effect is that you cease playing your role as part of the governance structure and slip into another, which is less effective.


Problem #3 – Stop Being the Referee


Board members who take up these other roles eventually abandon their most important duty: to set standards and hold people accountable. After all, if you are involved in making operational decisions, at the next meeting you are likely to defend their success or failure.


In other words, you have become entangled.


Imagine a football game in which the goalie decides to play the role of centre-forward. That’s bad enough… imagine him also wanting to be the referee!


The source of all three problems is that boards often lack a rigorous definition of the practices to use when interacting with staff. In your commitment to be helpful, you end up doing more harm than good, running all over the field, leaving the mouth of your goal unattended.


As a board member, you are not a mentor, coach, consultant or friend. While it’s fine to show these competencies in quick bursts, your primary role is much too important to be abandoned. Do so long and often enough, and you leave the company short of the kind of far-sighted governance that might save it from ruin. Instead, stay out of trouble: define your practices with some rigour and stick to them no matter what.

N.B. This column has a companion webinar that accompanies it on YouTube. Click on the graphic below or this link.