Personalizing Motivation

By Dr. Sullivan

Mar. 27, 2006

Everyone knows that a motivated worker is a more productive worker. Yet, you can search the hallways of HR for hours and never find the “nonmonetary motivation department.”

    So the question arises: Is there an easy way to increase the motivation of individual employees without spending any cash? Fortunately the answer is yes. There is a workforce management practice known as “personalized motivation,” or “how would you like to be managed?” profiling. These approaches can be easily implemented and, in no time, enable you to give your manager information on the best ways to motivate their employees.

    Baptist Health Care is breaking new ground in personalized motivation: One organization that has boldly adopted a personalized motivation process is Baptist Health Care of Florida. The approach is simple but effective. Baptist Health Care distributes a survey to employees asking them how they would like to be rewarded and recognized. From the survey, an individual manager can see what type of reward or recognition is likely to have the greatest impact on this particular employee. While Baptist Health Care focuses primarily on rewards and recognition, I suggest a slightly broader approach that also asks employees what excites and frustrates them.

    Four powerful questions that are just never asked: I don’t know about you, but my working life has spanned over 40 years and not once has any manager of mine ever asked a single one of these questions:

  • What would you like more of? That is, what are the elements of any job that excite, challenge and motivate you to be more productive?

  • What would you like less of? That is, what are the elements of any job that frustrate you or inhibit your productivity?

  • How would you like to be managed? Help me understand the best approach to get the most productivity out of you.

  • Why did you quit your last few jobs? Help me understand why you quit, so that I can avoid repeating the same mistakes that your previous managers made.

    The advantages of personalized motivation: It’s a common business practice in sales and market research to spend hours attempting to find out what motivates each individual customer to purchase a firm’s product. That practice needs to be duplicated internally.

    The need to identify employees’ critical motivators is important because, simply put, most managers are terrible at motivating their employees. When managers don’t know what motivates an individual, they mistakenly assume that all workers want the same thing, or they make random guesses about what motivates an individual. Both are serious errors.

    If we expect managers to successfully motivate their individual employees, human resources professionals must accept the responsibility of providing managers with a list of what motivates and frustrates a new or recently transferred employee. I have found that even “bad” managers, when they are educated about what excites and challenges an individual worker, can become “good” managers in as short as a month.

    Steps that you should take: Producing a “how I like to be managed” profile starts with developing a simple questionnaire that is administered to new hires and transfers during orientation. (A sample copy of a customized motivation survey can be found at It can be a simple paper questionnaire, but it works best when it’s available online.

    If you are really bold, give the survey to every other hire in a particular job classification and see whether the “motivated” employees produce higher output, retention rates and performance appraisal scores after one year than the sample population that did not complete the survey. Calculate the dollar amount of any increased productivity, and show it to your CFO with a smile on your face and a swagger in your walk.

Workforce Management, March 27, 2006, p. 50Subscribe Now!

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