I participated in a panel discussion for a leadership training course. The idea was that people in the course would ask us questions and we would share based on our experiences. A man asked us how he could motivate an employee to perform better.
Another panel member gave a namby-pamby milquetoast answer about encouraging them to do more, offering some kind of incentive if they hit a new target, etc.
I responded by firmly stating “You can’t. You don’t.”
There was about 3 seconds of silence, and then a few people grinned and chuckled. The HR lady in the back was staring strangely at me. The questioner simply pointed over my shoulder. I turned around to see that I was sitting under a 4×5 poster titled “How to Motivate Employees” – apparently this had been a core part of the training session earlier in the day.
I turned back and re-iterated my view that motivation cannot be manipulated effectively from outside the person. Yes, you can create carrot-and-stick situations where people have incentives to behave differently. But, Stephen Covey nailed it: “Motivation is a fire from within. If someone else tries to light that fire under you, chances are it will burn very briefly.”
Your best strategy on motivation is to hire the right person in the first place. The second part of that strategy is to create working environments with challenging goals and loads of support.
What’s been your experience? Let us know in the comments!