4 Motivation Myths Managers Fall For All The Time

Lois Moncrief, a manager for over 29 years, once said, “Make it reasonably possible for the employee to get the “carrot.” Employees are smarter than horses. Employees won’t keep trying at a no win situation.”

Though I don’t believe that anyone should compare employees to horses, he makes a good point. A common place where managers make mistakes is in how they motivate their employees. According to Carolyn Dewara, a partner at McKinsey & Company and Scott Keller, a director at the company, there are four things managers believe about how to properly motivate employees that can end up doing the exact opposite. “When it comes to motivating employees to change, it should be no surprise that leaders who rely on rationality typically spend time and energy on the wrong things, send messages that miss the mark, and create frustrating unintended consequences,” they said.

  1. Thinking employees care more about the company more than they actually do: Employees care about the company but often not as much as they care about “helping put more people in homes (society), improving quality and service by reducing errors and streamlining operations (customer), achieving far more working together than any individual could alone (team), and as delegating more and creating more attractive jobs (me) and ensuring expenses don’t outpace revenue growth (company).” But managers make the mistake of only appealing to the company part which does not motivate people.
  2. More money is the best incentive: Believe it or not, just giving more money to employees is not always the most effective, though it does usually work. However, studies show that big bonuses are less effective than smaller, unexpected gestures, because gifts create a relationship while bonuses are purely transactional.
  3. The sound of your voice is the best motivator: New York Times executive editor Jill Abramson recently learned this lesson. It was revealed that during her interview with publisher Arthur Sulzberger she admitted she needed to work on listening more and talking less, and not interrupting. She got the job partly because she said that was an area she would try to work on.  Dewar and Keller said when people choose for themselves what to do instead of just being told, social-science research shows, they are more committed to the outcome by a factor of almost five to one. So although as a leader you likely feel a responsibility to explain your views, you’ll do better by asking people questions that will help them reach their own conclusions about how to improve.
  4. Pointing out everyone’s flaws will help in the long run: Not that you should ignore problems but only focusing on the negative will just bring everyone down more. Instead, focus on how your organization’s, or individuals’, strengths can be used to overcome your challenges.

Photo: Chris Curtis/Shutterstock

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    • rick lamb

      absolute gold here — crucial to get these things right, throughout the organization, and, further, into the org’s reliance-relationships with partners and even key vendors.

    • Allison

      Daniel Pink wrote an interesting book about human motivation called ‘Drive.’ It echoes a lot of what was said here. There’s a cool animated video of Pink talking about some interesting, unexpected hallmarks of human motivation on youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u6XAPnuFjJc