“One More Time: How Do You Motivate Employees?” HBR 1968

Employee motivation has spurred much research and debate for over a half-century.  Is there anything new to learn or to say?  Frederick Herzberg published our title article and his message is still on point – “People are most satisfied with their jobs (and therefore most motivated) when those jobs give them the opportunity to experience achievement.”  Amabile and Kramer’s research supported his message and uncovered what undergirds that satisfiaction: consistent, meaningful progress.  However, they also found that managers have still not learned this lesson.

They asked 669 managers from dozens of companies how they can impact their employees’ motivation and emotions.  They were given 5 tools to rank:

  • Support for making progress in the work
  • Recognition for good work
  • Incentives
  • Interpersonal support
  • Clear goals

Only 5% of respondents ranked progress as the number one motivator.  In fact, the majority ranked “support for making progress” last and chose “recognition for good work” as the number one motivating factor.

Aha.  So now we see that what we know isn’t necessarily translating into what we do in the workplace.  Stop and think – what tools are you using to motivate your employees?  How would you have ranked these tools?  How would your managers rank these tools?  Next time we will examine what days of progress and setbacks look like in the inner work life of our employees.




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