When Lou Gerstner took over as CEO of IBM in 1993, he took the reigns of an old and prestigious institution with a rich history. Gerstner had no computer industry experience, but he did have deep leadership experience. And taking over at IBM he would need every bit of it: IBM had suffered a multibillion dollar loss and was burning cash.
“There’s been a lot of speculation as to when I’m going to deliver a vision of IBM [but] the last thing IBM needs right now is a vision,” Gerstner said at his first press conference. He needed to make some tough decisions and get the his new team members working together effectively – fast.
Gerstener turned IBM away from the brink of bankruptcy, and change it into a service and consulting business that is still thriving today. Corporations all over the world are using IBM as their outsourced technology providers. But the question remains: How did he motivate his workforce to come together in those dark days and together create the juggernaut that IBM is today?
Motivation Is Intrinsic
There are a lot of requests for motivators in coaching and consulting. Sales managers want their team members motivated, and companies will hire you to motivate them. But you can’t. Lou Gerstner couldn’t ‘motivate’ his people, and I can’t motivate you.
Motivation is intrinsic: we motivate ourselves. This implies that motivation is driven by our own individual values. To illustrate the truth of this, consider how some people are motivated by power, or recognition, and others by independence. The point is everyone is different and this means that blanket approaches don’t work.
It’s often assumed that people are motivated by money. But, in reality, very few people are motivated by cold hard cash. Mintz Hertzberg, one of the pioneers of motivation theory, found that for most people pay is really a hygiene factor. That is, the absence of money is a huge demotivator, but once the acceptable limit is reached any more has rapidly diminishing returns. Throwing money at unhappy employees simply makes them richer, yet still unmotivated employees.
So if money is not a main motivator, what is?
1. We All Have Talents: Use Them
We all have particular talents and strengths. When people aren’t allowed to use their talents and get recognised for them, they become particularly unhappy and frustrated. So, the more you can utilise the talents of your people, the more motivated they’ll be. We can all apply our talents outside of our job and be fulfilled, but we’re talking about work here. If you want to motivate your people, use their talents within their work.
Ask your people: “At work, are you enjoying yourself?” This is a great indicator as to whether their talents are being used. And then ask yourself the same question.
2. Recognise Behaviour and Effort, Not Just Success
Recognise people’s contributions. Gerstner famously acknowledged IBM’s culture and history, picking up on the particular behaviours he wanted to grow: innovation and flexibility that would embrace the major market changes taking place. What had been a weakness of the company before he took it on, and had been a driver of losses, suddenly became a strength.
This is why you want to reward behaviours and not just victories. One organisation, Tata Motors, an Indian car company implemented a reward for the best idea that didn’t work. Now that’s recognising forward thinking behaviour.
3. We All Like to Make Our Own Decisions
People crave autonomy. No one likes being micro-managed. This means allowing people to come up with their own goals, to use their judgement, and create their own contributions. Netflix abandoned sick leave and holiday restrictions and gave each employee the freedom to take as much as they like of each. As long as they delivered, it didn’t matter. The result: Netflix has some of the highest customer satisfaction scores in their industry.
4. Empower Your People With Authority
People want to make their own decisions, which influence the outcome of their work. In the early years of my career as a new team leader, my then manager – who taught me a great deal – changed his people’s authority levels so that they could reverse and increase customer’s’ limits on their credit cards.
His view was that people aren’t stupid: they won’t steal from the hand that feeds them, nor will the give away the farm. True enough, the extra authority led to tighter controls over credit limits and an improved customer service: no more deferring to management, who would make the same decision but with days of delays.
Empowerment is one of the strongest motivational change management tools available to modern management.
The MITRE of Motivation
What I’ve outlined above is a four step motivational model that will create the environment, system and processes to help people to understand their value and worth to your organisation. Recognising their contribution, giving them autonomy and empowering them to make their own decisions, you’ll help them motivate themselves and dramatically improve business outcomes with much less effort.
If you want to motivate always remember; MITRE: Motivate Intrinsically by using Talent, Recognising contribution, and Empowering your people.
Imagine what your team could accomplish!
Creative Commons image courtesy Erwin Gabler.