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Want to fire up your employees? Stick a generator in them

Aug 03, 2007 Business Daily, Management

“If I kick my dog (from the front or the back), he will move. If I want him to move again, what must I do? I must kick him again. Similarly, I can charge a man’s battery, and then recharge it, and recharge it again. But it is only when he has his own generator that we can talk about motivation. He then needs no outside stimulation. He wants to do it.

How do you install a generator in an employee? The findings (of various studies) suggest that the factors involved in producing job satisfaction (and motivation) are separate and distinct from the factors that lead to job dissatisfaction.”

Frederick Herzberg

Frederick Herzberg is addressing the most fundamental issue faced by every leader: how do you motivate your people? By paying them more? Designing better HR policies? Supervising them better? Improving their working conditions? Training them more effectively? Giving them status? Job security? Actually, no. These are merely ‘hygiene elements’. The essential truth is this: hygiene factors merely alleviate dissatisfaction. Good policies, pay structures, conditions – these are essentials, but they are not motivators. They will not help the CEO craft his winning team, nor will they take the firm to new heights. They must be treated as ‘must-haves’. And here’s the crunch: you could invest vast sums in pay, training and conditions – and have no discernible impact on company performance. People-driven competitive advantage comes from an altogether different set of factors.

So what is it that installs what Herzberg called a self-powered “generator” in the employee? That requires an understanding of the unique needs of human beings – particularly the higher-level need to experience psychological growth. The CEO who has understood this has cracked the problem. Factors relating to the job environment merely alleviate job dissatisfaction. Factors relating to job enrichment are the true motivators, because they allow employees to experience that much-needed personal growth.

The growth and advancement of the employee is something that must be managed with the utmost thoughtfulness. It is not mere science – advanced performance measurement systems or incentives schemes are mere tools. They may be necessary, but they are not substitutes for concern, sensitivity and understanding. Handling people can never be mechanised or automated. People management is not for number crunchers. It requires acute psychological insight and observation.

These are the ingredients for building the winning team: make each key job a rich one; dish out responsibility judiciously and generously; provide employee-friendly support processes (information technology and procurement are the two that most often fail that test); allow people the space in which to perform; reward achievement warmly and quickly; and provide a clear trajectory for every career. How these ingredients are mixed together, and in what proportions, is a matter for the individual CEO’s judgement. Many recipes are possible. But no CEO can afford to ignore the people essentials. The effort is worth it in gold, however: a finely nuanced people management system is one of the most difficult things for your competitors to replicate.

Time for a punchline. Is this a revolutionary new idea, emerging from modern thinking about human capital? No. Frederick Herzberg wrote Work and the Nature of Man in the 1960s, and the world of people management is fundamentally the same today as it was all those decades ago. Employees are still primarily motivated by the same thing they always were: personal growth. Every new generation of leaders needs to relearn this essential fact.

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