Motivating factors

Instilling workers with an enthusiastic attitude towards safety can be a challenge for supervisors and managers, but it need only take 20 minutes a day. By Andy Gilman*
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Checking who is underground during emergency exercise at Oaky No 1, November 2004

Angie Tomlinson

Jim is a good supervisor. He’s well liked by both his subordinates and his boss, and his team always meets production targets. At the moment he’s struggling to get his people enthused about the company’s new safety initiative. His boss wants to know why so few people from his team have expressed interest in going through the company’s behavioural observation training. Jim knows the safety initiative isn’t the only thing that people are indifferent about. It seems that lately many people in his group do the minimum to get by in pretty much everything. They’re not bad employees—in fact they’re some of the best in the company—they’re just unmotivated. Jim knows he needs to do something or risk creating tension between the management and shop floor. The question is, what?

Jim is not alone. Motivation is an ongoing challenge for many supervisors and managers. While experts have studied workplace motivation for years, and have even produced a wealth of information, advice, and products that promise to get employees motivated, a single, effective method has been elusive. As a result, many managers and supervisors have been frustrated in their attempts to balance motivation with limited schedules and budgets. Placed between senior leadership and the frontline workforce, middle management personnel already perform triple duty: expressing the will of leadership above them, ensuring the workforce is performing in line with that will, and then representing the workforce up the ladder. Add to that the task of generating enthusiasm that moves employees to “go the extra mile” and you can see why people like Jim feel stuck.

The good news is that with behavioural tools, and a little technique, managers and supervisors can significantly improve the motivation of their teams. Leaders who have used the tools, report the tactics pay dividends in the form of better information exchange, higher employee retention, improved job satisfaction and performance. The biggest benefit, however, is that it can take, on average, just 20 minutes a day.

Motivating from the middle

For the most part, middle managers and supervisors have had to rely on the traditional motivation activities handed down to them when they took the job – things such as posters, pep talks, policies, and incentives. What most managers and supervisors discover pretty quickly is that these techniques are unreliable at best and counterproductive at worst. Take, for example, slogans and motivational posters. The common slogan that comes to mind is “Safety is our number one priority”. However, if the real situation is that safety is priority number three or number four for the organisation, such signs just announce to the employee group that there is a disconnect at the site. Frontline employees may conclude supervisors and managers are out of touch with reality, or worse, do not care about those realities. Instead of generating motivation, the company has actually spent time and money to lower its credibility.

What middle managers and supervisors have to their advantage is the relationship they have with their subordinates. They know their people better than anyone else in the organisation and most directly affect what gets done and how. Not surprisingly, the leader-report relationship, as measured by perceptions about supervisor fairness, trust, and credibility, is strongly predictive of successful performance outcomes. This tremendous advantage is at the heart of the 20-minute motivation.

Motivation and behaviour

Simply speaking, the problem of creating motivation is one of generating motion. The word motivation comes from the Latin word “movere”, meaning “to move”. When we say someone is motivated we really mean that person is in a state of motion towards a goal. In a work situation, we say a motivated employee is one who actively pursues the goals of the team or organisation in his or her day-to-day job. In other words, they are performing behaviours that support a goal. The key to 20-minute motivation is to understand what drives behaviour and how to influence it. The two essential tools of behavioural motivation are ABC Analysis and feedback.

ABC analysis:ABC analysis helps supervisors both understand why people do what they do and strategically shape environments that promote desired behaviour. As the name suggests, it’s an analysis of behaviour. The “A” stands for antecedents (what triggers behaviour), the “B” is for the behaviour, and the “C” for consequences (what follows the behaviour). A simple example is the behaviour of answering a phone. The phone rings (the antecedent), the person answers (the behaviour), and then talks to the caller (the consequence). At first, most people assume the ringing phone is the driving factor in the behaviour since the person only answered the phone after hearing it ring. However, consider the scenario differently: What if, after the person answers the phone, there was no one on the line? And what if this happened consistently all day long? When the phone then rang again, would the person still answer?

The point is it is the consequence of the behaviour that is the most influential, and the antecedents affect the behaviour only to the extent they can predict the consequences. We know, too, that consequences can vary in terms of influencing behaviour. Consequences that are soon, certain and positive have a consistently greater impact than consequences that are later, uncertain and negative.

Using the ABC model, we can here to read on.

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