Motivation by the Book

Article excerpt

"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. …