How Can You Motivate Staff – Part 1

“Motivation is when your dreams put on work clothes”

– Benjamin Franklin –

It is a truism to say that not everyone is motivated by the same things.  Of course, I believe that motivation is inherently an internal disposition and that we can really only motivate ourselves.  However, what we can do is create an environment where people are free (and motivated) to do their best work.

But if different people are motivated by different environments, how are we to know what to do?

The answer may well lie in our personality traits.

Think of a trait as a relatively stable characteristic that causes individuals to behave in certain ways.  Some traits (referred to as Central Traits) are the general characteristics that form the basic foundations of a personality.  Others (Secondary traits) appear only in certain situations (anxiety when having to speak in public, for example.  Many theorists have  proposed different categories of personality characteristics, but 3 systems seem to be used most frequently day in a business setting – Myers-Briggs, Insights, and DiSC.   Since I have used DiSC over the last 30 years with several thousand people, I’ll use it to illustrate how motivation can look different for different people.

DiSC identifies 4 broad classifications – the D (Dominant) style which is results and action oriented, task focused, self-confident, and impatient; the I (influencing) style which is enthusiastic, optimistic, relationship oriented, talkative, and impulsive; the S (Steady) style which is stable, supportive, team oriented, patient, calm and indecisive; and the C (Conscientious) style which is logical, precise, accurate, quality focused, reserved, and judgemental.

Each of these styles (keeping in mind that people often have a combination of styles one being more dominant during some situations) is motivated by different things.

So how do you motivate the D?  Both the D (and the I  for that matter) have a very low boredom threshold. Doing routine tasks without any variation or ability to bring their own style to the way things are done is a major turn off for these two styles.  This means that you won’t want to put a high D in a position as a file clerk unless you want to have your entire system reorganized.  The D especially is motivated by having the ability to tackle challenges and work out their own approach to finding solutions.  Being told exactly how to do things, especially if the task is routine and boring, will often lead either to slipshod work or to a reinvention of the wheel.

Ds hate to be micromanaged – that is, work in an environment whether everything they do is prescribed, checked and re-checked, with no freedom to do things in their own way.  When they are given a new project the Manager takes them through it, step by step, laboriously outlining everything they are to do to accomplish the task.  The Cs may describe this as just ensuring that quality is maintained; the Ds see it as stifling and controlling.  Because Ds have a high need for control they are most motivated when they are given as much control over their projects as possible.

This, of course, does not mean that the Manager simply assigns a task and then ignores the D hoping that the results will be as expected.  Break the assignment down into steps, allow the D to move ahead on each step, but being accountable for his/her actions at pre-set markers along the way.  This way, if the D does go off-track, the error can be caught in time before everything goes off the rails.

Be direct with the D in your conversational style, and negotiate up front any boundaries or processes that must be observed.  Be clear and specific about what an acceptable result looks like, and the deadlines they must meet – then let them go ahead and tackle the task.  Be clear about any limits to their autonomy but do provide them with as much opportunity to achieve results as is reasonable.  Let them know that if they are successful in completing the first project they will be given more autonomy in the future.

Prime de-motivators include indecisiveness on the part of the Manager, having their time wasted (especially staff meetings where everyone gets to weigh in on things for which they have no personal accountability), having to wade through too much detail, and being overruled when they thought they had the authority to proceed.

Even if you are the greatest believer in teams and their value to an organization, give the Ds the opportunity to work independently from time to time.  Ds generally are not fond of working in teams (unless they are the Captain).  Their high level of self-confidence is frequently interpreted as cockiness, so resist the urge to take them down a peg or two by discounting their results.

Competition is often very motivating for the Ds, but the Manager should ensure that the competition is directed appropriately (against standards, goals, or outside competitors) as the Ds tendency to operate in a win-lose environment can be disruptive to overall team functioning.  Remember their motto is:  “If you can’t run with the big dogs, don’t get off the porch!”

Next week, Motivating the High Is.

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