Motivation results when women in management tap into others' special inner force that always subconsciously asks – “What’s in it for me?” They answer that question by satisfying needs other people have. And when they do, people want to do what has been asked of them. They are motivated!

The five major positive motivators in the workplace are: achievement, recognition, the importance of the work itself, responsibility and advancement. Of course, each individual will have other, personal motivators so try and uncover those too.

Frederick Herzberg, motivation guru, recommends taking a long-term approach to motivation since what you need is sustainable enthusiasm and commitment. Herzberg found that once a fair level of compensation is established, money actually ceases being a significant motivator for long-term performance. (Except for one or two rare instances, I found this to be absolutely true!)

He identified the following as major positive motivators: achievement, recognition, the work itself, responsibility and advancement.

  • Achievement – as the leader, you set the targets. In selecting the targets you have a dramatic effect on each team member’s sense of achievement. If they are too hard, they’ll feel failure; if too easy, they feel “small”. Break your projects or tasks into easily recognizable stages toward the ultimate objective so progress can be punctuated with small but marked achievements. When you stretch your team, they know you know they can meet the challenge.

  • Recognition – Feedback is fundamental to motivation. Let them know what they do well, being positive. Let them know what needs improving, being constructive. Let them know what is expected of them in the future, giving them something to aim for. Recognition is usually achieved through a structured review system, but the best time to give feedback is when an event occurs.

  • The work itself – Ideally the work should be interesting and challenging. Interesting because it engages your team’s attention, challenging because it maintains their interest and provides a sense of personal achievement when the task is complete. Not every task can be interesting and challenging. When you need to assign something boring or mundane, first be sure the interesting and the boring are evenly spread around (include yourself in this). See if you can find a different way of doing the mundane.

  • Advancement – There are really two types: long-term such as promotion and raises and short-term such as increased responsibility, acquisition of new skills and broader experience. If your team members are looking for the former, you’ll have to provide the latter and convince them that these are necessary and preparatory steps for the advancement they want. Design assignments so each team member feels s/he is learning and moving in the right direction.

  • Responsibility – Herzberg’s most positive and lasting motivator is responsibility. Gaining responsibility is itself seen as an advancement which gives rise to a sense of achievement. Assigning responsibility is a difficult judgment call. Be sure you assign responsibility to those ready for it. If it is given to someone not confident or capable enough, you will be held responsible for the resulting failure.

Maslow’s “Hierarchy of Needs”

I’m also including, in this context, Maslow’s “Hierarchy of Needs” since it is considered the standard for prioritizing personal needs and may help you identify needs unique to your individual team members.

In 1943, Abraham Maslow proposed a theory that as humans meet their basic needs, they seek to satisfy successively higher needs, creating a hierarchy most often depicted as a pyramid. The four lower levels are grouped together as physiological needs, while the top level is psychological or growth needs.

Most of the major motivators discussed above fall into the top two levels of the hierarchy. Maslow believed that only when the lower order needs of physical and emotional well-being are satisfied do we concern ourselves with the higher order needs of influence and personal development. Conversely, if the things that satisfy our lower order needs are swept away, we are no longer concerned about the maintenance of our higher order needs. The impact of a failing marriage on the motivation of one of your team members, for example, could significantly impact their ability to meet your normal performance expectations of them.

Today’s best organizations, not surprisingly, offer development support to their employees in any direction that person seeks to grow and become more fulfilled. As women managers and leaders, we are uniquely well-suited to fulfill that role.

Maslow's Heirarchy merits its own space in your Manager's Tool Kit.

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