Tag Archives: motivation

It’s Not Working Harder

“The difference in the two jobs was night and day,” Caitland explained. “The higher paying job had a better title. Managing Director, I think. The other company had lower pay, a lower title, but the work was more interesting, more challenging, in the end, more satisfying.”

“What was it about the work that made it more satisfying?” I asked.

“The Managing Director job was just that. I managed and I directed. Actually, it was a glorified supervisor position. Very frustrating. I was supposed to make sure the work got done, but I felt like I was putting my thumb in the dike. I could easily see better ways to achieve the goals, systems that we could create to more effectively solve the same problems over and over. But my boss was resistant. He said that creating those systems would be a waste of time, there were always too many exceptions.”

“And why was the other position more satisfying?” I repeated.

“A lot less stress, even though we produced more than double the output of the other company. It’s funny, I never fixed a problem while I was there. I only focused on systems. I would fix the system and the system would fix ten problems. We seldom worked overtime, but were much more productive.”
As we wind into this holiday season, Management Blog is winding down its publishing year. We will see you in January 2024. Until then, have a Merry Christmas. Enjoy the time with family and friends. See you soon. -Tom

What’s the Difference in the Work?

“As a manager, if all you can offer is money, what kind of issues do you constantly face? More importantly, if we are trying to get some work done around here, how can we bring out the best in people?” I repeated.

Caitland hesitated. “I guess my experience is from my first few jobs. Money was the only reason I worked. It’s how I put myself through school. The only reason I worked was for the money. And if I got a better offer, more money, for another job, I jumped on it.”

“Did you ever take a job, based on compensation, that you wished you hadn’t taken? Even though the money was better than your previous job?” I pressed.

She nodded her head. “Yes, but, in my mind, I told myself they were paying for a lousy job and that’s why the money was better. Funny. They were paying for a lousy job.”

“And have you ever taken a job that was so interesting that the money didn’t matter?”

Again, Caitland nodded. “Yes, don’t tell anyone, but this job, I would work for free.”

“So, tell me, what’s the difference in the work?”

How Much Are They Paid?

“Thinking about your team, what is it that you think people really want out of their job?” I asked.

Caitland was looking for the trick in the question, but her answer jumped out, shaking her head, “It’s money. Just ask them. Especially today.”

“So, you think money is the prime motivator?” I followed.

“You mean, it’s not,” Caitland baited.

I smiled. “Have you ever heard of Encyclopedia Britannica?”

Caitland nodded. “My parents owned a set. When I was a kid, we used to copy out of it, for our homework assignments. We had a special heavy duty bookshelf. Those books weighed a lot.”

“And what happened to that company?”

“I’m not sure. When CDs came out, there was a company called Encarta. A whole encyclopedia on a CD.”

“And what happened to that company?”

Caitland stopped. “I’m guessing they are out of business, too. Now, I just use Wikipedia.”

“And how much money are the writer’s paid to work for Wikipedia?”

Caitland smiled.

Feeling Part of the Team

“Caitland, you have been a manager for a while in this company. I know you’ve received awards, plaques and certificates for things you have done. But I only see a couple up on your wall,” I observed.

“You’re right,” she said, leaning over to open a long file drawer. “Look at these. I actually think it’s company policy to only give out awards that fit in file drawers.”

“But, aren’t you proud of the recognition?”

“You, know, it’s nice. But after a while, the plaques are all the same.”

“How so?” I asked.

“You want to know what really makes me feel a part of the team, I mean the management team. Every Wednesday, the three top executives in the company go to lunch. Two months ago, they asked me to go with them. In that lunch, they shared some exciting news about a new product launch. It made me feel an important part of what’s going on around here. I would trade all of my plaques for more of those conversations.”


Victoria was stumped. She had always thought the only way to motivate people was to create a bonus or incentive program.

“So, if a bonus is off the table,” I started, “what could you create as a positive consequence?”

“I suppose, if I am around and notice something good, I could give them an attaboy,” she floated.

“And if you are not around?”

“That’s the problem, when I’m not around, things grind to a halt.”

“Have you ever heard, What gets measured, gets done?” I asked. “Why do you think that happens?”

“I don’t know. I suppose it’s because people think they are being watched even when they aren’t being watched.”

“Don’t be naive. People know exactly when they are being observed and when they’re not. Here’s why What gets measured gets done. Knowing that something was done correctly, one unit completed to the quality standard creates a positive consequence. But only if it was measured. If no one notices, then there is no positive consequence. If it gets measured, there is a positive consequence.”

“So, then I would still have to be there to count all the completed units?” Victoria resisted.

“No, they’re adults. They can count their own completed units, and post the number on the white board by their work station.”

“What white board?” Victoria asked.

“The one you are going to purchase and put up tomorrow.”

Ply Them With Money

“Maybe, I will have to give them some more training. That might perk them up,” Victoria replied. “The J-curve says that productivity on anything new will decline before it gets better, but more training might be the ticket.”

“And what else?” I prodded. Victoria was getting push back as her team took on more responsibilities.

“I guess I could talk to them, as a group, let them know how much I was counting on them,” she added.

“Those are both things that you could do, probably won’t hurt, but probably won’t have the impact you are interested in,” I explained. Victoria’s face twitched. She was looking for more approval than I was giving.

“Both things you suggest,” I continued, “occur before you get the behavior you want. Most managers go there. It’s not that it’s bad, just not very powerful. The power is not in what you set up before the behavior, but what you set up after the behavior. Consequences. And the most powerful consequence is a positive consequence.”

“You mean like a bonus?” Victoria guessed.

“A bonus is a reward, not a consequence. An immediate positive consequence is more powerful than a reward. Rewards are always delayed, can get taken away, the qualifications may change. Immediate reinforcement is more powerful than an uncertain reward.”

“I don’t know. If I can’t ply them with money, what can I do?” Victoria cringed.

Le Resistance

Victoria looked a little down. “Why the long face?” I asked.

“Ugh,” she replied. “I think I just entered the J-curve. We had to let two more people go last week, I had to reassign some of their work to other people. Empowerment, you know the drill. It’s tough getting people to do new kinds of work. Their new responsibilities are suffering, big time.”

“What do you think is the problem?”

“The new things they have to do aren’t that difficult, but I am getting resistance. And some of the new decisions they have to make, well, maybe, with a little experience they will do better.”

“Describe the resistance,” I shifted.

“It’s not really resistance. They don’t say anything. But I can tell. It’s like a blank look. A nod that says yes, but a feeling that says no.

“What do you think you are going to do, to get a different result?” I pressed.

“I am going to give it more time. Maybe things will improve.” Victoria was an optimist.

“And, what if they don’t improve? First, how will you know whether they are improving? And what if they don’t improve? What will you do differently?”

Look Again at the Decisions

“I know I have heard that before,” Vicki replied. “As the manager, it’s not my job to motivate, I am supposed to create an environment. So, what does that mean? We have work to do here.”

“This is all about work,” I replied. “And by work, I mean making decisions and solving problems.”

“But my people know what they have to do, and there aren’t that many decisions to make.”

“Look again,” I encouraged. “Your team is making decisions all the time, if you let them. Most of their decisions fall into two categories, quality and pace.”

Vicki looked puzzled, “What do you mean?”

“How many units are supposed to come off the line by lunch time?” I asked.

“Fifteen,” she replied.

“And so, as the morning goes on, your team is making decisions about how quickly they should go without compromising quality? And if there is a quality issue, they have to solve the problem and make up the pace to reach the goal by noon?”


“And, what happens if they discover that they can maintain the quality standards, and produce 20 units by noon?” I smiled.

“Well, they would probably knock off at 15, or slow the pace down because the goal was 15.”

“But that would violate the contract,” I prompted.

“The contract?” Vicki repeated.

“The contract to do their best. Part of the contract means if they can complete more than the goal using their assigned resources in the allotted time, they are supposed to tell you, as the manager.

“See,” I continued. “That is why 15 is your goal, not their goal. It is the manager who is responsible for the result. And that is the first thing to understand about creating this environment.”

Part of the Employment Contract

“It gets back to the contract you have with your team,” I said. “Each team member is responsible for doing their best. That’s it. People have a deep need to do their best, a deep need to contribute, a deep need to work.”

“Then, why do I feel like I spend most of my time trying to motivate my team?” Vicki pondered.

“I don’t know, what do you think?” I replied. “Keep in mind, people behave in accordance with the systems we place them in. It is not your job to motivate. It is your job to create the environment where all the motivation hype is not necessary.”

Work As Identity

“Okay, I pay him to solve problems and make decisions, not to push the button,” Vicki tested, still resisting. “Aren’t you just being picky?”

“I am. And for a reason,” I replied. “People don’t come to work to push a button. They come to work to solve problems and make decisions. They come to work to contribute. They come to contribute to a group of people who they hold in high regard. Much of their identity is related to the position they hold in your company.

“Our status in life, our place in the world is defined by the groups we belong to. If we don’t belong to a group, we don’t exist.”

Vicki was listening, her posture gaining interest.

“People want work that challenges them to their highest level of capability. In that work, there is true satisfaction. Not by pushing a button, but exercising their full judgment in making decisions toward a goal.”