Motivation and the hamster wheel

In Uncategorized on January 25, 2011 by Tim Aikens

Most of us have seen a hamster running furiously on its little wheel. Sometimes they go at it with absolute frenzy as if their life depended on it. Yet there is no overt reward, no Pavolovian training or other incentive. Somewhere there is an inner motivation simply to go as fast as you can.  Perhaps that’s why we humans are intrigued by it and love to watch!

Now consider a shelf stacker at your local supermarket.  Technology has not yet got to that place where you can replace the person.  How can you (or indeed should you) motivate the stacker to go flat out all day like the hamster.  The job has little or no intellectual challenge or artistic merit. It needs to be done and done well, but that is all that could be said about it.  What about piece work!(?)  Imagine being paid by weight – well I hope I am stacking beans and not Corn Flakes. What about by box I hope I am stacking Corn Flakes not beans! Just about everything has been tried.

Take another example.  You see the aftermath of an earthquake on TV.  The inhabitants of the devastated area are all working frantically with their bare hands – for as long as it takes to rescue people trapped. Endless maximum motivation.  They are drawn together by common cause, personal interest and a natural desire in most people to help.

So whilst we don’t want our staff to work as hard as hamsters with no understanding of what they are doing, it would be nice to have a level of motivation closer to a disaster scenario – yet that is sustainable over time and breeds loyalty as well.  I believe that success lies in the three areas of common cause, personal interest and desire to help.  These three issues are too much for this blog, so I will set the scene and then take each one as the topic over the next few blogs.

One organisation that stands out as really trying to meet the three strands I mentioned above is Peter Jones the UK retailer.  Their staff are called partners, they all get shares in the business and they are receive a worthwhile profit related bonus.  They have low staff turnover and a pride in being part of a close knit organisation.  Perhaps that is why a lot of companies refer to themselves as the XXXXX Family.  Peter Jones have tackled common cause, and possibly a little of the other two.  How could this be taken further?  How do you manage this elsewhere?  What about a Local Authority street sweeper or refuse collector, both valuable and necessary jobs (try not taking your rubbish out for three weeks!) .  These jobs are likely as not to be outsourced.  The outsourcing company will be on a tight margin. Is loyalty to the outsourcer – do as much as possible in the time even if the quality is lacking,  or to the customer – the householder?  Where is the personal interest?

Next time I will start to consider:

  • What is common cause and how do you create it
  • Identifying personal interest and going outside the workplace
  • Finding and unleashing the natural desire to help!

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