How To Best Motivate Your Staff On Complex Tasks

toolsThis article is contributed by Patricia Wright.

While any business will have a number of tools and assets critical to its success, the most important of these is almost always going to be the workforce. Everything else here is just tools and supplies to be used by your staff – if they aren’t motivated to use the materials well, or if they aren’t able to operate the tools effectively, then the outcome is never going to be as good as it could be.
If you want to improve your company’s efficiency, its turnover and its profit, the best thing you can possibly do is to learn how to get more from your staff. And a key way to do that is to think about how you are motivating them. Here are some factors that help motivate staff to work well.

What We Think Works

Most of us think that we know how to motivate a workforce, and managers in particular will generally think they’ve got a pretty good idea of how to go about it.

For the most part, we will approach this challenge with simple punishment and reward. We offer penalties to those who don’t finish the work on time, and we offer rewards for those who do – often in the form of bonuses and raises. The idea is that the staff will then work in order to achieve the things they want and won’t want to stop for fear of the repercussions.

But the problem is that time and time again, this has been proven by research not to work. Would you really expect it too? After all, this is the same way that we motivate donkeys.

Using the Right Kind of Motivation

Actually, to say that rewards don’t work to motivate at all is a bit of a sweeping statement that’s not entirely accurate. In the right setting this can still be a useful strategy – when you try to motivate someone to stuff envelopes for instance, or when you want them to enter data into spreadsheets. In such scenarios research supports the idea that people will work harder when there’s a reward at the end for them.

The problem comes when you want your staff to be more creative and thoughtful. A perfect example is the candle test. Here, participants are given a candle and a box of tacks and are then challenged to stick the candle to a wall in such a way that no wax will drip down it. The correct answer is to empty the box and to stand the candle in it, using the tacks to attach the candle to the wall. Unfortunately though, most people don’t come to this conclusion for some time due to something called ‘functional fixedness’ – in other words they are too busy thinking of the box of tacks as a container to consider using it as a platform/holder.

And when we try to reward participants for getting this right answer, the situation just gets worse and people take even longer to work out what the correct answer is. They become too driven to complete goals and get almost a ‘tunnel vision’ that prevents creative thinking. And we’ve all heard about the studies showing how rewards make us lose enthusiasm for something. Remember how much you loved English/science/psychology before you began studying it at University? Suddenly when you had to do it, it became a job and you lost your love for it. Seeing as most office work these days requires creative thinking and involves complex problems, you need to think of a new way to motivate your staff as a manager.


And the way you do this is by giving your staff more ownership for their work. You give them more creative freedom, more acknowledgement and more autonomy to work the way they see fit and to create solutions that they can feel proud of. This way they will become invested in what they’re doing and they’ll do their best work because they want to and because they can – not their fastest work so that they can get a bigger bonus.

For more inspiration take a look at Google. They provide their staff with regular time to pursue the projects that they find interesting and to work how they see fit – and it’s thanks to that policy that we today have things like Google Earth. What will your staff come up with?

Author Bio: Patricia Wright is a corporate management trainer at Scope Training, which offers online project management courses. She is a very helpful person and she enjoys sharing her opinions and suggestions through her articles.

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