Managers’ main motivational mistake

Dr Jason Fox

Managers frequently misjudge what are the best ways to motivate their staff.

In the compelling closing final session of the 2014 NIBA Convention, motivation strategy guru Dr Jason Fox left behind the positive exhortations and stories of many motivational speakers to delve into the science of human motivation.

He says in the business world, most managers believe the most powerful motivating factor for their employees is recognition for good work. However, research into what actually motivates employees has found a sense of progress the most powerful.

“This puts a very different perspective on how we motivate,” he says.

“Traditionally we have set goals off in the distance but what a sense of progress is all about is celebrating small wins.

“It’s really about reducing the latency between effort and meaningful feedback.”

Fox says this desire to receive feedback on progress explains why many of us fail to be as productive as we desire.

“We may have great intentions but what a lot of us find ourselves doing is checking emails, because they provide such a rich sense of progress. You get through your emails and you feel like you’re winning,” he says.

“Our activity will often default to the environments that provide the richest sense of progress.”

Fox says the key to greater productivity, whether personal or of one’s staff, is not about changing people’s attitudes but instead about designing work processes that are inherently motivating.

“It’s not about having fun at work; what people want is meaningful challenge,” he says.

Instead of setting aspirational goals for teams, Fox recommends that managers instead set quarterly projects, as shorter timeframes and quantifiable outcomes give people a better sense of progress.