We all talk about the many ways to motivate our teams: recognition, workplace perks, a feeling of connection to the mission and vision, etc.  But isn’t there really an underlying assumption that money is the main motivator, and anything else we do is merely icing on the cake?

As a board member on my local volunteer mountain rescue team, I am reminded of this every day.  My fellow board members and I are responsible for enforcing policies about member attendance, what the group will purchase, what training we will pay for, and what events the group will participate in, among other things.  There is no faster way for us to make our members angry than to forget that they are volunteers, and to speak rigidly about policies without at least an undertone of gratitude for what they do. 

About once every three months, I get on my soapbox and preach this to my teammates because it’s so easy to forget.  We start thinking we can manage the way we do in a for-profit organization.  “Let’s tell him no,” someone will say.  “The policy is that he was supposed to ask permission first.”  Or “That event is not worth our time, let’s tell so-and-so that she can’t attend.”  Or, “That idea is too complicated.  Let’s just say no.”  And then I’ll think, why is the person volunteering their time when they keep hearing “no”?  And what do we need to do to keep this person motivated and excited?

The answer is usually that we need to step back and remember why we originally volunteered our own time to join this group, and then ask our members the same question.  Why are they here?  Just how, exactly, does it satisfy their needs?  And if we keep saying “no”, what impact will that have?

I go back to Zappos’s definition of happiness, which I have written about before.  Zappos doesn’t pay any more than its competitors do, but they are widely regarding as a best place to work.  Why?  Because they focus on four components of employee happiness:

  • Perceived Progress:  The perception that you’re further along today than yesterday.
  • Perceived Control:  The perception that you have a direct effect on the outcomes in your life.
  • Relatedness:  Living life in the context of meaningful relationships.
  • Connection to a Larger Vision:  The ability to contribute to something bigger than yourself. 
  • I wonder what would happen if we took that approach with our top performing employees in the workplace.  Forget about the money.  What else makes that employee happy?  Why are they here?  And are we treating them in a manner that keeps them in the ranks of satisfied, top-performing employees?  Or are we constantly saying no?

    My guess is that we’d have a culture that shows respect for people’s needs and underlying motivations.  What do you think?

    1 Comment

    1. Insightful, focused and brings the reality of how we need to respect what each person is trying to accomplish in their role in an organization.

      We all struggle at different times, if we are going the right direction, and in my mind if we can listen to people, reflect on the goals of the company and keep them top of mind, we can respectfully get to a goal together.

      Thanks for bringing me into a Monday with a new perspective.