Motivation and Productivity

In Productivity and motivation on January 17, 2011 by Tim Aikens

So far in this blog I have not really talked about the topic of motivation and its impact on productivity.  I have talked about a productivity mindset and the need for passionate leadership, but that is not really the same.  Every day we all go to work with some level of motivation (high or low).  The question I have is in two parts.  Does motivation have a direct link to productivity and if so, is there anything that can be done to improve motivation and therefore increase productivity.

Of course motivation is a vast topic in its own right, you can full shelves (or is it disks) with all the books and research done on the topic.  Consequently, I am not going to try to answer both questions in one blog.  Rather I will take this as a theme to work through over the next few weeks.  For those of you who can’t wait, here are my conclusions.  The answer to both questions is maybe and it depends!  Or to put it another way, in some situations people will definitely perform better when highly motivated.  In others no amount of motivation would help.  Of course in both cases improvements in productivity may also be constrained by other factors such as the process and available resources.

But going back to basics. What is motivation?  Well there are loads of definitions available.   Here is  what I hope is a simple definition.  Motivation is the extent to which an individual responds to a set of influences on his work environment and thereby governs the nature of his actions.  Note that I have used the word ‘on’ not ‘in’ his work environment. I believe that there are many external influences that can have a huge impact on motivation that have no origin in the workplace.  For example – a few influences might be good (or bad) family life, the weather, the nature and difficulty of a commute to name but a few.  Within the workplace pay is possibly the most common lever of motivation, others are the working environment, hours of work, the team and so on.  This is where a lot of theory and practice has developed.  Perhaps the most common are incentive schemes designed to get staff working harder (and smarter).  Another is designing work processes so staff would feel more involved and party to decisions.  A few of the other ideas that have been developed  and many still in place today include varying the nature of work, using the concept of self managing teams, and 360 degree feedback.

Yet the battle continues to increase motivation and increase productivity.  I believe one reason for this is that many organisations only address those factors over which they have direct control (e.g. pay).  To succeed, I believe that an organsation has to look much more broadly than this.  One piece of research has had a major influence on my thinking.  In the mid 80’s two US researchers, Barry Shaw and Jerry Ross reviewed a longitudinal study of attitudes to work (over a 50 year period).  They found that attitudes and disposition in the early years could significantly predict attitudes in later years – even when there had been multiple job changes and also career change.  So efforts to improve motivation at the company level would have had little impact!  For me this places a very different emphasis on how to generate productivity enhancing motivation that is very much broader than often addressed in the past. At the expense of using a little jargon and approach has to be holistic and comprehensive!

What is your experience? I would love to hear of success and failure!


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