Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Pointing out the obvious: motivation improves IQ test results and this applies to business... how?

BBC published a news article yesterday about how motivation affects IQ test results. The article is short but brings forth an interesting aspect of intelligence and intelligent people:
Getting a high score in an IQ test requires both high intelligence and competitive tendencies to motivate the test-taker to perform to the best of their ability.

How would this reflect to everyday life and to busines in particular? Well, consider a situation all too often seen in the working life: companies like to hire experienced, well educated and intelligent people thinking that it leads to better results in projects, but after a while results aren't exactly great. Hiring good people simply isn't enough if the company can't keep the people motivated.

Well motivated people drive themselves to go beyond good work to do excellent work. It takes motivation to keep on pushing through problems and hardship until the job is done right when others no longer feel like doing more. Most people with a healthy dose of common sense knows this, so why are there companies and public organisations with poorly motivated staff?

It does not matter how experienced and intelligent a person is if that person lacks motivation. Without motivation easy routine work can become a soul-rotting forced labour, and problems that otherwise would be considered as mere challenges to be conquered are rejected as impossible or at very least unreasonable ordeals. In short, without proper motivation people who normally could and would do, begin to give up because there is no point and they don't care.

Motivating people does not need to be difficult or something special, nor should it require expensive leadership training given to the company management (although it probably wouldn't be a bad thing) about how to be a better superior and a leader. One can get far - in my opinion - simply by being a human and treating others as such, too.

One might begin by not thinking employees as resources but seeing them as people, persons with their individual hopes, dislikes and ambitions. One could try talking with them - not to them and certainly not at them -, not high above from the ivory tower but as peer to peer, learning about what they personally value in their work and in life in general, what values and principles guide their actions and how they would like to improve themselves professionally.

When they do good work, one could thank them and let them know their efforts are noted and appreciated, and when they occasionally fuck up, one might help them to understand where and why mistakes were made instead of aggravating the situation further by attacking them verbally and piling blame over guilt: most people are genuinely sorry after they fail at something and they do appreciate it when their colleagues and superiors offer them support at their moment of self-doubt and need, and they will remember this long after the difficult times are past them, and the lessons they learned may prove invaluable in later life.

Now, one might add to this the more common motivational tools in form of good salary (the business way of saying "we really appreciate you and your work, please don't go and work for the competitor"), bonuses (the business way of saying "thank you for helping us to earn more money and to become prosperous and respected") along with various perks of the job (the business way of saying "you take care of us and we take care of you"), and I think there might be some noticeable changes in peoples attitudes.

However, this will have the desired effect only if done right. For example, if a person has no real personal control over the bonus, the bonus loses the ability to motivate: it is disheartening when your bonus depends on how other people have done their work no matter how well you have done yours. Also when company management decides which perks to offer to employees it might help if people are asked what they would find interesting instead of simply deciding on their behalf what they should do be doing.

But the most important thing, in my opinion, is to see employees as people and treat them as such. It takes so little, and yet it will take so far: mutual respect has much stronger motivational effect than strict corporate hierarchies and the implied feudal "the lords shouldn't socialise with the serfs" -attitude. A word of encouragement from a CEO who knows every employee at least by name has power much beyond actions taken by a CEO who never talks with people below middle management.

And while money is important - hey, life is expensive and we all work for living - I think even more important is that people working in projects are encouraged to take the ownership of their own work, to nurture their professional bride of work well done, to challenge*** them and acknowledge them in their success or support them if they falter.

(*** please note: a deathmarch project is not a challenge; it is a poorly managed financial sinkhole and a waste of collective life that merely motivates people to change jobs) 

So, if a company has hired intelligent, experienced people and yet their performance and results are mediocre at best, it might be a good time to re-evaluate management's motivational approach and how employees feel about coming to work every morning.

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