When work needs to get done, we need to dig down to find the motivation to keep going. This, in the face of dwindling focus (now down to less than a minute) as an increasing array of digital distractions clutter, and even hinder, our path.
Science tells us that tapping into our flow state can make us happier and more productive. At its core, getting stuff done is a matter of inspiration and motivation. Chris Roebuck, author of Lead to Succeed, told Fast Company in a previous interview that an employee’s motivation to perform is 57% rational and 43% emotional, and approximately 80% of the emotional can be controlled by the worker’s direct manager. He believes that managers who can tap this in their employees are the ones who will beat out their competition.
How to do that? Marcelo Manucci, a psychologist who specializes in organizational change in times of uncertainty, shared a paper he wrote with Fast Company. In it, Manucci draws from his work to describe the four faces of motivation from inertia to inspiration, and how management can effectively motivate workers.
First, Manucci explains that, like animals, humans use chemicals to mark our territory. If our emotions come from brain chemicals, our marking comes from our perceptions of how similar incidents or spaces in our past made us feel, he posits. In this way, our motivation depends on the personal experience we infuse into each context.
After all, Manucci says, the very word motivation is derived from the Latin “motivus” (movement) and “tion” (action or effect). “But movement depends on ‘what we see’ around us, and the effect of our actions is based on our ‘possible answers’ to what we see around us,” he writes.
In the workplace, this happens in a similar way. There is the employee’s emotional and personal experience of the organization and the more rational objective definition of the company based on its characteristics.
The employees’ perceptions are, of course, subjective. They are defined by two opposing forces: the optimistic, which sees space for personal opportunity, and the restrictive, which feels the limitations placed on career advancement. Their response, therefore, could be either reflective, taking into account their place in the larger organization, or it could be reactive, seeking only to assuage their personal needs at the time.
The motivations behind reactive responses are fairly straightforward. In one case, something happening in the office is prompting the employee to feel threatened. Think of the jerk boss or bully or even selfish coworkers. The anxiety these confrontations produce often makes the employee look for the quickest way out. Unfortunately, if this is a pattern behavior, the person might feel like nothing she does will change the dynamic, so she just tries to escape.
Then there is the case where an employee recognizes the potential for change but is unwilling to take a risk. Maintaining the status quo is simpler than sticking your neck out, even if a situation isn’t charged. Maybe this person took a risk once and it didn’t pay. Manucci says this type of worker always seeks a predictable environment. In this situation, the reaction is compliance.
Not everyone is able to see a variety of possible outcomes in a given situation. Even those fighting against limiting factors might be motivated by the need to control or cast aside obstacles only. “Any disturbance is perceived as a threat,” Manucci maintains. “This is the face of the discontent and aggression.” While reflective, this reaction veers toward the negative and nonproductive. An employee like this is motivated by how much he can complain about what he is not getting.
There are those who can maintain a positive outlook, and this, in turn, opens up possibilities and greater inspiration. It’s a motivator because the employee believes his initiative and engagement will influence the course of events at their company. “It is the face of creativity and commitment,” Manucci writes.
To encourage inspired motivation, Manucci recommends that managers use a four-part approach:
1. Define objectives
Changing a perceived threat or fixing discontentment starts with communicating the goals of the organization and the values of coexistence with each employee. To give employees clarity and focus on the goals, managers should follow up by offering reference points along the way.
2. Build emotional capital
Emotional capital is critical for performance, Manucci believes. But teams need to have a level of trust and security with each other in order to cooperate and collaborate effectively. Manucci stresses the need to strengthen diversity and integrate points of view from different genders, ages, and philosophies while creating an environment of respect and shared learning.
3. Share the value of contributions
In order for work to have meaning beyond just making money, the employee’s contribution needs to be seen as valuable by others in the company, especially the direct manager. “The significance of personal contribution improves the level of commitment and creativity in the task,” Manucci underscores. To develop this sense of purpose and motivation, he recommends establishing meaningful goals for growth and promoting innovative solutions that address everyday challenges. Above all, he says, it is important to recognize the employee’s participation and contribution in the development of the company’s corporate purpose.
4. Encourage transformational roles
To encourage an employee’s perception that she can be an agent of change, Manucci advises sharing knowledge, broadening participation within teams, and defining long-term goals and objectives that have the potential for social transcendence in the regular work day. Says Manucci: “Each person can contribute significantly to the transformation of the life of others.”