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Motivation: The Most Overrated Managerial Skill Ever

I am certainly not one of those who need to be prodded. In fact, if anything, I am the prod. - Winston Churchill

After a few years as an entrepreneur, manager and project manager, I have developed a tried and true system for hiring people.

  1. Find proficient people.
  2. From an elite group of the proficient, find the most passionate people.
  3. From the crème de la creme of proficient and passionate people, hire those who genuinely want to be great at what they do.

These rules have never failed to net me great people who I didn’t need to waste time motivating and I think that was the competitive advantage my teams always held over others.

I believe that motivating people is an overrated skill that usually overshadows failures in hiring practices and policies. This is not to say that some motivation isn’t needed at certain times, but I think the abundance of policies, plans and strategies for motivating employees is just ridiculous. Employees that need to be motivated cost the company in a number of ways:

  1. Productivity: The mere fact that an employee has to be motivated means that they are not going to give their maximum effort to the task at hand, reducing both the quality of the work and company productivity.
  2. Culture: Hiring employees who need to be prodded says a lot about a company’s culture. It says that as an organization you are fine with slouches and people who don’t go all out. Such a culture rarely leads to greatness.
  3. Focus: The bulk of a company’s time should be spent on increasing productivity and becoming great in their field. That means focusing on creating a great product, providing great service and building a great company. That focus becomes fractured when have to devote energy to getting employees to put their shoulder to the wheel in regards to their jobs.

It is vital that companies take the time to search for talented, intelligent people that love what they do and aren’t just looking for a paycheck. The result will be a company filled with people that don’t need constant pep talks because they, by nature of who they are, simply give their best every time. Now I admit, finding these employees won’t be an easy task but the reward of finding such people outweighs that difficulty by a mile.

This is not to say that rewarding success shouldn’t be a part of an employee policy mix. I believe that reward and praise is important for maintaining employee morale, but reward and praise shouldn’t be used in an effort to elicit a commitment to excellence. Such a commitment is either in you or it isn’t and no amount of reward plans will change that so why use it that way? You don’t want a company filled with people working for reward because that seldom leads to great work. If it isn’t rewarding to know they aced a project, hit that sales number, got that important client and etc. then they are not the kind of employee you’re looking for.

So to my fellow business managers, I offer this word of insight. Great companies are built on the backs of great people and great people never need any extra motivation than what they wake up with every morning.

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  • Matt Timothy

    The motivation of individuals at work is one of the most important jobs of a manager. What makes someone come to work and apply effort towards getting the task accomplished? What makes someone decide not to come to work? People work to better the world, be part of a team, and achieve technical excellence.

    Managers need to understand the different forces that act on an individual. Then the question of how to exert influence on those forces may be addressed. At that point the manager can attempt to influence the behaviour of organizational members so that it is directed towards accomplishing the organization’s tasks.

    Motivation can be defined as the attention paid, effort exerted, and persistence of behaviour.

  • Dr. Jim Anderson

    I’m wondering what Douglas is going to do when he finds himself in a lifeboat with seven other survivors that he did not get to choose after his ship sinks? If you always have an opportunity to cherry pick your staff then life would be wonderful; however, (apparently unlike Douglas) if you find yourself thrust into situation where you inherit a team that you did not get a chance to choose, then what do you do?

    If you are manager then you can just start firing everyone who does not pass your “motivation test”. While that’s all fine and good, pretty soon you’re going to be left with one small team. Maybe there’s another way that Douglas skipped over in his posting – leadership.

    That pesky leadership thing always seems to get in the way of a good firing. It requires us to have skills like negotiation and such that are just hard to come by.Just imagine if you could energize and motivate everyone who came into contact with you. Wow! Not only would you be able to get a lot done, but your value to your company would skyrocket.

    So I agree with Douglas – motivation is overrated. However, leadership is not and motivation is something that is a result of having good leadership.

    - Dr. Jim Anderson
    Blue Elephant Consulting