Get your employees to perform better

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Mark Oliver, managing director of MarkTwo consulting, ask the question: How is it best to develop the motivations and capabilities of employees?

Motivation combined with capability tends to lead to effective behaviours, and behaviour underpins performance. To get the right answer to the question above it helps to ask the right question and the question in this case would be: how do we get our employees to perform better? If someone has the capability but not the motivation to do something required to perform, then the necessary behaviour is very unlikely to arise and they will not perform; similarly, if someone has the motivation but not the capability. You need both motivation and capability for performance.

The second question that follows from the understanding above is: which is most important with regard to performance, motivation or capability? At first sight it would seem that the more important of the two is capability and there is often a great emphasis on training in the workplace to enhance that. The appropriate training is important and, after all, motivation is not trainable, so one might wonder what is the use in focussing on human motivation? But look more deeply and you realise that motivation is much more important than capability in the wider context of both professional and personal life. In short this is because:

  1. Motivation determines what you do; in many ways it determines the path you take at work (and in life).
  2. If you do not have the motivation then your capability becomes largely irrelevant. Not surprisingly then, motivation precedes capability and often leads to capability.

Given all this, the third question becomes very important: what can we do to increase motivation? To answer this you can split the factors affecting motivation into two parts: internal and external to the individual.

Internal Factors. The internal factors include a person’s personality (values and beliefs etc.). An important time to look at this is when selecting individuals and it is wise to use good psychometric instruments to help increase the accuracy of your decisions, such as The Universal Hierarchy of Motivation Professional Report, especially as they are so cost effective.

External Factors. A key external factor is the systems and structure of the organisation. But it is often difficult to predict how these affect human motivation. Consider the real-life example of a day-care centre that encountered tardy parents at closing time each day. This situation led to anxious children and frustrated carers. A solution put in place by ten day-care centres in Haifa, Israel, was to fine parents three dollars if they were more than ten minutes late. Rather surprisingly, this solution had the opposite effect and the number of late parents more than doubled after the fine was introduced. It turned out that the guilt the parents felt in being late was motivating them to be on time, but now the payment of a small fine assuaged these feelings and they were less motivated to be punctual.

So to get the best performance (or combination of people’s motivation and capability) from those employees you currently have in the organisation, it is critical that you provide the structures and systems (including pay systems) that will help to motivate them at higher levels.

Once you have set up the environment in your organisation that achieves this, only then is it worth investing time and money in training your employees. If you do it the other way around the risk is that not only will the employees not use the new skills they acquire in their training but also they are more likely to leave the organisation, which means someone else is likely to get all the investment you have made in them!