Insurance 13 March 2017

Understanding employee motivation to get the most out of small teams

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Power, affiliation or achievement – which one are you motivated by?

Having a good idea of employee motivation by communicating with staff regularly is the key to becoming the successful manager of a small team, write authors of the new book Real Leaders for the Real World, John McLachlan and Karen Meager.

Snazzy initiatives, big parties or comprehensive career planning – all of these have been suggested as ways to increase employee motivation and get the most of out your workforce.

In fact the answer could be much simpler – just get to know your employees and motivate them in a way that’s tailored for them.

If that sounds complicated or too much work, don’t worry, there is an easy way to work out how people are naturally motivated and to manage them in a way which helps them to feel fulfilled and gets the best out of them for your business.

Harvard Psychologist David McLelland has talked about three primary motivations that we have as human beings – the need for power, the need for achievement and the need for affiliation.

The key to using this in the workplace is to identify which is the main driver for individuals you work with, then tailor your communication to appeal to their way of being motivated.

Are they motivated by power?

People who are motivated by power are either driven to win or not to lose. They want to be the best, second place is not enough and they are likely to be interesting in activities and projects that will increase their profile and status. They may react strongly to environments where they feel controlled by others or by rules.

Whilst power people often get a bad press, as they can step on others toes to get what they want, they can also be strong, driven leaders who want their business to be the best too.

Power people can be motivated by giving them tasks where they have competition and can win or stand out in some way. They thrive in sales and business development roles and work best without too many constraints or rules.

When talking to a power person, tell them how what they are doing will put them in a standing above others, give them freedoms they don’t currently have, or how it will increase their career prospects.

Are they motivated by affiliation?

Those that are motivated by affiliation want to be popular and to be liked, so relationships are most important to them.

Affiliation-motivated people can be a great part of any team. They want cohesion and harmony and they are generally good at creating a good atmosphere.

They are an essential team player. They will sacrifice their own recognition for the good of the team. They tend to be the perfect people to organise team parties, sort out birthday presents or bring a sense of fun to a difficult environment.

People who are motivated by affiliation need people, so business owners shouldn’t put them on projects where they need to work a lot of time alone. Also, they shouldn’t be sent into very hostile meetings to get a great result – send in your power or achievement people for this.

Are they motivated by achievement?

Staff who are motivated to achieve are driven to do their best, or at least not to fail. If you are motivated by achievement, you want to do your best, and it doesn’t matter that you are not the best as long as you do the best you can.

Achievement motivated people can be great to manage, as they are usually quite self-driven provided they are given clear goals and measures to work to. They hate failure, and will do anything to avoid it. They will often work late into the night and go the extra mile.

The downside for managers of people motivated by achievement is that if things do go wrong, they can be prone to covering it up, or shifting the blame elsewhere.

The key for managers is to set clear outcomes, and as much as possible create a ‘no blame culture’ so that staff motivated by achievement will come to you if things are going wrong.

If you tell them that failure is not an option, then be careful what you wish for – they will go all out to do it but there may be sacrifices or issues along the way.

Be clear with them about what defines achievement is this context. It is being on time? Is it a high quality output? This will help focus their attention appropriately and do a great job.

All three drivers – power, achievement and affiliation – have their strengths and their downsides. The key as a manager is to know what your primary driver is and what your team members are driven by.

You can then speak to the different drivers people in your team have and allocate work to those that are most likely to get a good outcome from it. The more skilled you can get at this, the more respected you may be as a manager.

John McLachlan and Karen Meager are authors, psychotherapists and and co-founders of Monkey Puzzle Training, a leading UK consultancy in neurolinguistic programming.

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