Productivity Gains Through Positive Motivation

To paraphrase H.W. Beecher, “God made people to go by motives, and they will not go without them any more than a boat without steam or a balloon without gas. Find out what motivates individuals, and we can touch the button and turn the key that makes them achieve.”

As leaders, we are trying to make the whole organization equal to more than the sum of its parts. In today’s business environment, it is essential that we find ways to make our organizational resources more productive. In many organizations, the most prominent and expensive resource we have is our people. As a result, a lot of time is spent on creating processes and conditions that drive and motive our employees.

While I will devote much of this article to discussing motivation, let us first address the objective of motivation… to create enhanced productivity. Let me start by asking a question. How would you define “people productivity gain”? The obvious and most natural response is  “to get more out of existing personnel.” On the surface this is simple, but as you dig deeper, productivity gain requires a lot more thought as it is much more than one individual performing more of something in the same prescribed time. It is an organizational culture that stimulates an environment that inspires an individual and groups of individuals to strive for excellence in everything done to realize the company vision. It is about every individual satisfying their needs in such a way that it inspires a sense of belonging, involvement, satisfaction, success, respect, mastery, recognition, accomplishment, creativity, growth, maturity, and independence.

Over the years, I have noticed leaders trying many ways to motivate their people to higher levels of performance. Even the best leaders have experienced the frustration of leading someone who seemed to refuse to live up to expectations. The fact is, the leader was not recognizing that motivation develops internally from a personal desire to achieve goals that are important both to the individual and to the organization. Motivation is the force that prompts you to take action.

A lot of research has been conducted over the years to identify the factors that have the most dramatic impact on productivity. While pay, fringe benefits, and working conditions are important, research has shown that absence of these factors produces a lack of motivation, but their presence has no long-range motivational effects. The long-range motivation factors are recognition of a job well done, sense of achievement, growth, participation, challenge, and identification with the company’s goals and vision.

In spite of these facts, leaders and managers spend a lot of time trying to find ways to motivate employees through fear and “incentives.” The very essence of fear is negative and over time has diminishing effects as employees develop attitudes that lead to a decrease in quality, commitment, and production. Fear can be highly motivating, but not in conjunction with positive results for any length of time. Incentive, on the other hand, is a positive motivator that is a reward exchange for a specific behavior. This also has diminishing returns as employees expect fair compensation based on their long-term contributions and, many times, there is a disconnect between what the employee usually desires and what the employer is willing to pay. Ultimately, employees start gravitating toward desiring more of the intangible rewards such as respect, growth, knowledge, prestige, and recognition (to name a few) that ultimately govern their internal motivation. The challenge for the leader is to recognize each individual’s unique desires.

Here are a few ideas to apply in your business:

  • Make an effort to compliment each of your direct reports on at least a weekly basis. If you cannot do this, then you need to look in the mirror, as you are probably causing negative performance.
  • Make employee development and retention a primary objective of each manager and leader and reward results accordingly.
  • Involve everyone at all levels in the goal-setting and planning processes, particularly if they are responsible for the results.
  • Establish robust performance management systems that involve a continuous, timely, and constructive basis and a fair and equitable compensation program.
  • Let people know what is expected of them, and do everything you can to make them successful.
  • Develop a “servant leader” attitude. Be there for your people rather than having them there for you.
  • Make sure that everyone knows how they contribute to the overall vision.
  • Treat everyone with dignity and respect.

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Reference and excerpts taken with permission from Leadership published by Resource Associates Corporation, Mohnton, PA.