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Leadership Through Motivation and Accountability

May 16, 2012

By Erika Osmundson, Marketing and Communications Manager

You know the saying, ‘people don’t leave jobs they leave managers,’ it has some merit. A Gallup poll of over one million employees found that the number one reason that people left their job was due to a bad boss or immediate supervisor. While this isn’t always the case, an employee’s boss can make a big difference in the satisfaction that person finds in their job.

That is why so many companies think strategically about whom they put in leadership roles and devote the time and expense in developing strong leaders.

Being a good leader or boss isn’t easy. It takes time to develop the needed skills and practice. And, quite honestly, it is a role that most will likely never understand completely. Each day and each person led brings new opportunities, situations, and obstacles to face and overcome. 

Great leaders are those that handle the varying circumstances with poise and consistency. They know how to engage their workforce and understand how to convey appreciation for their team’s efforts. But, they also know how to get the most out of people, while creating an atmosphere for motivation and a sense of accountability within each employee.

The Importance of Motivation 

Motivation is typically thought of one’s ability/energy to get excited or exert the effort to complete a task, whether that is personal or work-related. In the workplace, motivation is a critical component of how an employee is led. If an employee shows a sense of self-motivation or passion for what they are doing, a less hands-on approach may be needed. If an employee is struggling to get motivated or isn’t particularly interested in a certain task they are responsible for, a more direct approach may be needed.

There is a wide array of research available on motivation and motivational theory, but one of the most well-respected researchers in this area is Frederick Herzberg. In his study, he found that while many feel there is a single continuum from dissatisfaction to satisfaction, which is not true. Rather there are factors that have to be in place, labeled ‘hygiene factors,’ and then there are another set of factors that increase the level of satisfaction/motivation of an employee.

Herzberg defines things like a competitive salary, good benefits, and decent working conditions as hygiene factors -- things that a person has to have and no matter how much you excel in other areas of motivation, without these the employee won’t move on the continuum from demotivated to motivated.

Items like achievement, recognition, responsibility and the work itself are all areas that can impact motivation. And the neat things that Herzberg’s research found was that these motivators were not only the most frequent causes of motivation, but they had the longest lasting effect on satisfaction. 

Also note, that many of the items that Herzberg labels as ‘hygiene factors’ can be the leading causes for dissatisfaction with a career or rather a, demotivator. Things like company policies and supervision ranked high in frequency of items that dissatisfied an employee.

Salary has an effect on motivation. It can be positive or negative. It is very rarely ranked within the top five things that motivate an employee, but if the salary offered is completely out of sync, it can be a very frequent demotivator with a long-lasting effect. 

If a manager thinks about motivation in this manner, the items that can move an employee on the continuum of satisfaction really don’t cost the business money, they are more so in how the employee is managed and allowed to contribute to the business. 

Here are a few easy tips for managers to enhance motivation:

  • Recognize good work.
  • Conduct exit interviews that ask questions to help understand why the person is leaving.
  • Conduct employee surveys that not only ask for feedback on the challenges, but why they stay with the organization or what they enjoy about the company. Do more of those things!
  • Frequently review current organizational policies and practices and remove any that aren’t effective.
  • Invest in the people and give them opportunities to learn and grow both inside and outside of the organization.

Managing people is not an easy task and takes a very dedicated level of effort and time from the manager. However, the rewards for helping employees grow within a business can be one of the most rewarding aspects of a manager’s job. Key principles, such as treat employees how you would want to be treated, go a long way. Focus on the aspects that motivate employees, such as achievement and recognition. This can be done through holding your staff accountable for their work, but also encouraging an atmosphere where employees feel empowered to make a difference.