principles of improving employee motivation and empowerment
This article provides a structure and tips for creating an employee motivation survey questionnaire, and also the principles of employee motivation and empowerment in organizations. See also the related theory article about individual motivation. This organizational motivation article is provided by the motivational expert and writer Blaire Palmer, which is gratefully acknowledged.
See also the free leadership test which can be used to test your own leadership ability, and also as a questionnaire/survey to assess leadership and motivation ability and effectiveness among managers and supervisors (MSWord format).
employee motivation questionnaires or surveys
Staff surveys are usually very helpful in establishing whether staff in your company are motivated and therefore performing to best effect. Aside from the information that questionnaires reveal, the process of involving and consulting with staff is hugely beneficial and motivational in its own right, (see the 'Hawthorne Effect'). Whilst your survey will be unique to your company, your staff issues, your industry and culture, some useful generic guidelines apply to most situations. Although not exhaustive, the following ten points may help you cover the relevant subject areas and help towards establishing facts rather than making assumptions about motivation when designing your own questionnaires on employee motivation.
ten tips for questionnaires on employee motivation
1. What is the 'primary aim' of your company?
Your employees may be more motivated if they understand the primary aim of your business. Ask questions to establish how clear they are about your company's principles, priorities and mission.
2. What obstacles stop employees performing to best effect?
Questionnaires on employee motivation should include questions about what employees are tolerating in their work and home lives. The company can eliminate practices that zap motivation.
3. What really motivates your staff?
It is often assumed that all people are motivated by the same things. Actually we are motivated by a whole range of factors. Include questions to elicit what really motivates employees, including learning about their values. Are they motivated by financial rewards, status, praise and acknowledgment, competition, job security, public recognition, fear, perfectionism, results...
4. Do employees feel empowered?
Do your employees feel they have job descriptions that give them some autonomy and allow them to find their own solutions or are they given a list of tasks to perform and simply told what to do?
5. Are there any recent changes in the company that might have affected motivation?
If your company has made redundancies, imposed a recruitment freeze or lost a number of key people this will have an effect on motivation. Collect information from employees about their fears, thoughts and concerns relating to these events. Even if they are unfounded, treat them with respect and honesty.
6. What are the patterns of motivation in your company?
Who is most motivated and why? What lessons can you learn from patches of high and low motivation in your company?
7. Are employee goals and company goals aligned?
First, the company needs to establish how it wants individuals to spend their time based on what is most valuable. Secondly this needs to be compared with how individuals actually spend their time. You may find employees are highly motivated but about the "wrong" priorities.
8. How do employees feel about the company?
Do they feel safe, loyal, valued and taken care of? Or do they feel taken advantage of, dispensable and invisible? Ask them what would improve their loyalty and commitment.
9. How involved are employees in company development?
Do they feel listened to and heard? Are they consulted? And, if they are consulted, are their opinions taken seriously? Are there regular opportunities for them to give feedback?
10. Is the company's internal image consistent with its external one?
Your company may present itself to the world as the 'caring airline', 'the forward thinking technology company' or the 'family hotel chain'. Your employees would have been influenced, and their expectations set, to this image when they joined your company. If you do not mirror this image within your company in the way you treat employees you may notice motivation problems. Find out what the disparity is between the employees image of the company from the outside and from the inside.
© Blaire Palmer 2004-12.
tips on structure, format and style of employee questionnaires
Use the questionnaire guidelines above when creating content and subject matter for your employee motivation and satisfaction questionnaires and surveys. Here are some additional tips about questionnaires and surveys structure, format and style:
Create a clear, readable 'inviting' structure. Use 'white-out' boxes for answers, scores, and for check-boxes, which clearly show the parts which need completing. Use a clear 11 or 12 point (font) typeface. 10 point is difficult to read for some people. Avoid italics and fancy graphics - they just make the document more difficult and more time-consuming to read. Look at the writing tips and techniques for other useful pointers in creating good printed communications. Apply the same principles if your survey questionnaire form is online (ie., screen-based).
Where possible try to use specific questions with multiple-choice answers, rather than general 'open-ended' questions. Specific questions improve clarity and consistency of understanding among respondents, and a multiple-choice format enables the answers to be converted into scores which can be loaded into a spreadsheet and very easily analysed. General or vague questions on the other hand tend to lead to varying interpretation (or confusion) among respondents; also, by inviting an open-ended answer you will generate lots of narrative-based and subjective opinions, which might be very interesting, but will be very time-consuming to read, and even more time-consuming to analyse, especially if you are surveying a large group of employees.
Here is an example:
Open-ended question: What do you think of the Performance Appraisal System? (This will produce varied narrative responses = difficult to analyse.)
Multiple-choice question: Rate the effectiveness of the Performance Appraisal System in providing you with clear and agreed training and development: Good/Okay/Not Good/Poor (By asking respondents to check boxes or delete as necessary the multiple-choice answers will produce extremely clear answers to a specific question that can be converted into scores and very easily analysed)
Use four options in multiple-choice questions rather than three or five. Three and five options typically offer a middle 'don't know' or 'average' selection. Using four, with no middle cop-out will ensure that everybody decides one way or the other: satisfactory or not, which is what you need to know. Mid-way 'average' non-committal answers are not helpful, so avoid giving respondents that option. If you go to the trouble of creating, managing and analysing a huge staff survey surely it's a good idea to produce as much meaningful data as possible.
Certain questions are suitable for numerical or percentage scoring by respondents, in which case use such a system (again ensure you avoid offering scores which equate to 'average' or 'don't know'). For example:
Score-based question: Score the extent to which you enjoy your work: 1-5 = don't enjoy, 6-10 = enjoy. (By providing a clear differentiation between do and don't, this 1-10 scoring system gives a wide range of choices, and at the same time a clear result.)
Check with a sample of respondents that they understand the draft questions in the way you intend, before you print and issue the questionnaire to all six hundred or however many staff. Designing questionnaires and communications in isolation can produce strange results - not just politicians get out of touch - so check you are actually on the same planet, in terms of your aims, language and meaning, as the people whose views you seek.
Make sure you explain to all staff beforehand that you'll be publishing the survey findings, and then afterwards ensure you do so. And then act on the findings. If your MD/CEO is not fully behind your initiative, then go work for a different company whose MD/CEO properly supports the concept of consulting the folk whose efforts underpin his success (not to mention his share options, second home and Porsche etc.)
Allow people to complete the survey questionnaires anonymously. If helpful to you and you have a purpose for doing so, you can ask people to identify which department/region/office they belong to, assuming such information is genuinely useful to you and you can handle the analysis.
KISS - Keep It Simple Stupid. Break complex questions into digestible parts. Keep the survey to a sensible length - probably 20 minutes to complete it is a sensible limit of most people's tolerance. You can always follow up later in the year with another survey, especially if people enjoy completing it, and they see that the feedback and analysis process is helpful to them as well as the employer (see the point about MD/CEO support above).
By all means at the end of the questionnaire invite and allow space for 'any other comments', or better still try to guide respondents towards a particular question.
On which point, wherever it is necessary to ask an open-ended question, use the words 'what' and 'how' rather than 'why', if you want to discover motives and reasons. What and How will focus respondents on the facts objectively, whereas 'why' tends to focus respondents on defending themselves.
It's okay to ask: What factors could be changed to help staff enjoy their work more in the XYZ depot?
Whereas it's not very clever to ask: Why is there such a crap attitude among staff at XYZ depot?
The second example is daft of course, but you see the point.
managing (just), or leading?
In this excellent guide article by motivation expert Blaire Palmer, ten central points (for some, myths) of employee motivation are exposed and explained, many with real case study references and examples.
employee motivation principles - a short case study - sounds familiar?
When Michael started his own consultancy he employed top people; people he'd worked with in the past who had shown commitment, flair and loyalty and who seemed to share his values. But a few months down the line one of his team members started to struggle. Jo was putting in the hours but without enthusiasm. Her confidence was dropping; she was unfocused and not bringing in enough new business.
Michael explained to Jo the seriousness of the situation. Without new business he would lose the company and that would mean her job. He showed her the books to illustrate his point. He again ran through her job description and the procedures she was expected to follow. He told her that he was sure she was up to the job but he really needed her to bring in the new business or they would all be out on their ear.
Jo told Michael that she understood. She was doing her best but she'd try harder.
But a month later nothing had changed. After an initial burst of energy, Jo was back to her old ways.
No matter how experienced a leader you are, chances are at times you have struggled to motivate certain individuals. You've tried every trick in the book. You've sat down one-to-one with the individual concerned and explained the situation. You've outlined the big vision again in the hope of inspiring them. You've given them the bottom line: "Either you pull your finger out or your job is on the line". You've dangled a carrot in front of them: "If you make your targets you'll get a great bonus". And sometimes it works. But not every time. And there have been casualties. Ultimately if someone can't get the job done they have to go.
The granddaddy of motivation theory, Frederick Herzberg, called traditional motivation strategies 'KITA' (something similar to Kick In The Pants). He used the analogy of a dog. When the master wants his dog to move he either gives it a nudge from behind, in which case the dog moves because it doesn't have much choice, or he offers it a treat as an inducement, in which case it is not so much motivated by wanting to move as by wanting choc drops! KITA does the job (though arguably not sustainably) but it's hard work. It means every time you want the dog to move you have to kick it (metaphorically).
Wouldn't it be better if the dog wanted to move by itself?
Transferring this principle back in to the workplace, most motivation strategies are 'push' or 'pull' based. They are about keeping people moving either with a kick from behind (threats, fear, tough targets, complicated systems to check people follow a procedure) or by offering choc drops (bonuses, grand presentations of the vision, conferences, campaigns, initiatives, etc).
10 management motivation examples to illustrate that there are better ways to motivate employees
Blaire Palmer's experience has enabled her to work with a wide range of individuals and groups from a variety of backgrounds. Some of these people are highly motivated themselves, but struggle to extend this state of mind to the people they manage. Other people are at the receiving end of KITA motivation strategies that (obviously) aren't working on them. These people know they 'should' be more engaged with their work. Sometimes they fake it for a few months but it's not sustainable. In this paper Blaire identifies some common assumptions about motivation and presents some new paradigms that can help motivate more effectively.
By adding these coaching tools and motivation principles to your capabilities you should find the job of leading those around you, and/or helping others to do the same, more of a joyful and rewarding activity. Instead of spending all your time and energy pushing and cajoling (in the belief that your people's motivation must come from you) you will be able to focus on leading your team, and enabling them to achieve their full potential - themselves.
Ultimately, motivation must come from within each person. No leader is ever the single and continuing source of motivation for a person. While the leader's encouragement, support, inspiration, and example will at times motivate followers, the leader's greatest role in motivating is to recognise people for who they are, and to help them find their own way forward by making best use of their own strengths and abilities. In this way, achievement, development, and recognition will all come quite naturally to the person, and it is these things which are the true fuels of personal motivation.
By necessity these case studies initially include some negative references and examples, which I would urge you to see for what they are. How not to do things, and negative references, don't normally represent a great platform for learning and development.
In life it's so important always to try to accentuate the positive - to encourage positive visualisation - so, see the negatives for what they are; silly daft old ways that fail, and focus on the the positives in each of these examples. There are very many.
motivation example 1 - 'everyone is like me'
One of the most common assumptions we make is that the individuals who work for us are motivated by the same factors as us. Perhaps you are motivated by loyalty to the company, enjoying a challenge, proving yourself to others or making money. One great pitfall is to try to motivate others by focusing on what motivates you.
Marie, a director in her company, was being coached. She was a perfectionist. Every day she pushed herself to succeed and was rewarded with recognition from her peers. But she was unable to get the same standard of work from her team members. In the first few weeks of her coaching she would say, "If only people realised how important it was to put in 110% and how good it felt to get the acknowledgment, then they would start to feel more motivated".
But it wasn't working. Instead people were starting to become resentful towards Marie's approach. Acknowledgment was a prime motivator for Marie so to help her consider some other options, she was helped to brainstorm what else might motivate people in their work. Marie's list grew: 'learning new skills', 'accomplishing a goal as part of a team', 'creativity', 'achieving work-life balance', 'financial rewards' and 'the adrenaline rush of working to tight deadlines'. Marie began to see that perhaps her team were indeed motivated - it was simply that the team members were motivated in a different ways to her own.
If the leader can tap into and support the team members' own motivations then the leader begins to help people to realise their full potential.
motivation example 2 - 'no-one is like me'
Since the 1980's, research has shown that although we know that we are motivated by meaningful and satisfying work (which is supported by Herzberg's timeless theory on the subject, and virtually all sensible research ever since), we assume others are motivated mainly by financial rewards. Chip Heath, associate professor at Stanford University carried out research that found most people believe that others are motivated by 'extrinsic rewards', such as pay or job security, rather than 'intrinsic motivators', like a desire to learn new skills or to contribute to an organisation.
Numerous surveys show that most people are motivated by intrinsic factors, and in this respect we are mostly all the same.
Despite this, while many leaders recognise that their own motivation is driven by factors that have nothing to do with money, they make the mistake of assuming that their people are somehow different, and that money is central to their motivation.
If leaders assume that their team members only care about their pay packet, or their car, or their monthly bonus, this inevitably produces a faulty and unsustainable motivational approach.
Leaders must recognise that people are different only in so far as the different particular 'intrinsic' factor(s) which motivate each person, but in so far as we are all motivated by 'intrinsic' factors, we are all the same.
motivation example 3 - 'people don't listen to me'
When some people talk, nearly everyone listens: certain politicians, business leaders, entertainers; people we regard as high achievers. You probably know people a little like this too. You may not agree with what they say, but they have a presence, a tone of voice and a confidence that is unmistakable. Fundamentally these people are great sales-people. They can make an unmitigated disaster sound like an unqualified victory. But do you need to be like this to motivate and lead?
Certainly not. Many people make the mistake of thinking that the only people who can lead others to success and achieve true excellence, and are the high-profile, charismatic, 'alpha-male/female' types. This is not true.
James was a relatively successful salesman but he was never at the top of his team's league table. In coaching sessions he would wonder whether he would ever be as good as his more flamboyant and aggressive colleagues. James saw himself as a sensitive person and was concerned that he was too sensitive for the job.
James was encouraged to look at how he could use his sensitivity to make more sales and beat his teammates. He reworked his sales pitch and instead of focusing his approach on the product, he based his initial approach on building rapport and asking questions. He made no attempt to 'sell'. Instead he listened to the challenges facing the people he called and asked them what kind of solution they were looking for. When he had earned their trust and established what they needed he would then describe his product. A character like James is also typically able to establish highly reliable and dependable processes for self-management, and for organising activities and resources, all of which are attributes that are extremely useful and valued in modern business. When he began to work according to his natural strengths, his sales figures went through the roof.
Each of us has qualities that can be adapted to a leadership role and/or to achieve great success. Instead of acting the way we think others expect us to, we are more likely to get others behind us and to succeed if we tap in to our natural, authentic style of leadership and making things happen. The leader has a responsibility to facilitate this process.
motivation example 4 - 'some people can't be motivated'
While it's true that not everyone has the same motivational triggers, as already shown, the belief that some people cannot be motivated is what can lead to the unedifying 'pep-talk and sack them' cycle favoured by many X-Theory managers. Typically managers use conventional methods to inspire their teams, reminding them that they are 'all in this together' or that they are 'working for the greater good' or that the management has 'complete faith in you', but when all this fails to make an impact the manager simply sighs and hands the troublesome employee the termination letter.
The reality is that motivating some individuals does involve an investment of time.
When his manager left the company, Bob was asked by the site director, Frank, to take over some extra responsibility. As well as administrative work he would be more involved in people management and report directly to Frank. Frank saw this as a promotion for Bob and assumed that he would be flattered and take to his new role with gusto. Instead Bob did little but complain. He felt he had too much to do, he didn't trust the new administrator brought in to lighten his workload, and he felt resentful that his extra responsibility hadn't come with extra pay. Frank was a good manager and told Bob that he simply had to be a little more organised, and that he (Frank) had complete belief in Bob to be able to handle this new challenge. But Bob remained sullen.
So Frank took a different approach: He tried to see the situation from Bob's point of view. Bob enjoyed his social life, but was no longer able to leave the office at 5pm. Bob was dedicated to doing a good job, but was not particularly ambitious, so promotion meant little to him. Bob was also expected to work more closely now with a colleague with whom he clashed. Then Frank looked at how Bob might perceive him as his boss. He realised Bob probably thought Frank's hands-off management style meant he didn't care. To Bob it might look as if Frank took no direct interest except when he found fault. Finally, Frank looked at the situation Bob was in to see if there was anything bringing out the worst in him. He realised two weeks of every month were effectively 'down-time' for Bob, followed by two weeks where he was overloaded with work. Having set aside his assumptions about Bob and armed with a more complete picture from Bob's point of view, Frank arranged for the two of them to meet to discuss a way forward.
Now the two were able to look at the real situation, and to find a workable way forward.
While there is no guarantee that this approach will always work, 'seeking to understand', as Stephen Covey's 'Seven Habits of Highly Effective People' puts it, is generally a better first step than 'seeking to be understood'.
It's easier to help someone when you see things from their point of view.
motivation example 5 - 'but I am listening'
We are always told how valuable listening is as a leadership tool and encouraged to do more of it. So, when we remember, we listen really hard, trying to catch every detail of what is being said and maybe follow up with a question to show that we caught everything. This is certainly important. Checking your email, thinking about last night's big game and planning your weekend certainly stop you from hearing what is being said.
But there is another important aspect to listening and that is: Listening Without Judgement.
Often when an employee tells us why they are lacking motivation we are busy internally making notes about what is wrong with what they are saying. This is pre-judging. It is not listening properly.
Really listening properly means shutting off the voice in your head that is already planning your counter-argument, so that you can actually hear, understand and interpret what you are being told. See the principles of empathy.
This is not to say that 'the employee is always right', but only when you can really understand the other person's perception of the situation are you be able to help them develop a strategy that works for them.
Listening is about understanding how the other person feels - beyond merely the words that they say.
motivation example 6 - 'if they leave I've failed'
What happens if, at their meeting, Bob admits to Frank that he doesn't see his future with that company?
What if he says the main reason he is demotivated is that he isn't really suited to the company culture, and would be happier elsewhere? Has Frank failed?
Not necessarily. It's becoming more widely accepted that the right and sustainable approach is to help individual employees to tap in to their true motivators and understand their core values. Katherine Benziger's methodologies are rooted in this philosophy: Employees who 'falsify type' (ie., behave unnaturally in order to satisfy external rather than internal motives and drivers) are unhappy, stressed, and are unable to sustain good performance.
Effort should be focused on helping people to align company goals with individual aspirations. Look at Adam's Equity Theory to help understand the complexity of personal motivation and goals alignment. Motivation and goals cannot be imposed from outside by a boss - motivation and goals must be determined from within the person, mindful of internal needs, and external opportunities and rewards.
Sometimes the person and the company are simply unsuited. In a different culture, industry, role or team that individual would be energised and dedicated, whereas in the present environment the same person doesn't fit.
Sometimes 'success' doesn't look the way we expect it to. A successful outcome for an individual and for a company may be that a demotivated person, having identified what sort of work and environment would suit them better, leaves to find their ideal job elsewhere.
You succeed as a leader by helping and enabling people to reach their potential and to achieve fulfilment. If their needs and abilities could be of far greater value elsewhere, let them go; don't force them to stay out of loyalty. Helping them identify and find a more fitting role elsewhere not only benefits you and them - it also enables you to find a replacement who is really suited and dedicated to the job.
True leaders care about the other person's interests - not just your own interests and the interests of your organization.
motivation example 7 - 'the same factors that demotivate, motivate'
When asked what brought about lack of motivation at work, the majority of people in research carried out by Herzberg blamed 'hygiene factors' such as working conditions, salary and company policy. When asked what motivated them they gave answers such as 'the sense of achievement', 'recognition', 'the opportunity to grow and advance' and 'greater responsibility'.
Herzberg's findings about human motivation have been tested and proven time and gain. His theory, and others like it, tell us that the factors that demotivate do not necessarily motivate when reversed. The conventional solution to dissatisfaction over pay levels would be to increase pay in the belief that people would then work harder and be more motivated. However, this research shows that whilst increasing wages, improving job security and positive working relationships have a marginal impact, the main factors that characterise extreme satisfaction at work are: achievement, recognition, interesting work, responsibility, advancement and growth.
So it follows that leaders who focus on these aspects - people's true motivational needs and values - are the true leaders.
Help people to enrich their work and you will truly motivate.
motivation example 8 - 'people will rise to tough challenges'
Many managers hope to motivate by setting their people challenging targets. They believe that raising the bar higher and higher is what motivates.
Tracey was an effective and conscientious account manager. Her boss habitually set her increasingly tough objectives, which Tracey generally achieved. However, in achieving her targets last month Tracey worked several eighteen-hour days, travelled extensively overseas, and had not had a single weekend break. Sometimes Tracey would mention to her boss that the effort was taking its toll on her health and happiness.
When Tracey handed in her latest monthly report, her boss said, 'You see? It's worth all the hard work. So, don't complain about it again.'
Her boss's belief was that Tracey would get a sense of satisfaction from completing an almost impossible workload. He was relying on her sense of duty - which she had in bucket-loads - to get the job done.
But this is the KITA style of motivation. It doesn't really acknowledge a dedication to the job or a sense of pride. Its leverage or 'motivation' is simply a lack of choice.
Job enlargement is different to Job enhancement. Herzberg's research shows that improving the 'meaningfulness' of a job (see also motivation example 7) has the motivational impact, not simply increasing the amount of pressure or volume of the tasks.
Achievement for achievement's sake is no basis for motivation - a person's quality of life must benefit too.
motivation example 9 - 'I tried it and it didn't work'
When you try new things - new motivational ideas, especially which affect relationships and feelings - it is normal for things initially to get a little worse. Change can be a little unsettling at first. But keep the faith.
People are naturally sceptical of unconventional motivational approaches. They may wonder why you have suddenly taken such an interest in them. They may feel you are giving them too much responsibility or be concerned that changes in the way they work may lead to job losses. Herzberg's research is among other evidence, and modern experience, that after an initial drop in performance, people quickly adjust and respond to more progressive management and motivational attitudes.
Supporting and coaching people through this stage of early doubt is vital.
Encourage and help people to grow and develop, and performance improvement is inevitable.
motivation example 10 - 'this type of motivation takes too much time'
If you've absorbed the ideas above, you might wonder where you would find the time to motivate people using these approaches.
It is true that this style of leadership, sustainable motivation, commitment and focus is in the beginning more time consuming than 'KITA' methods; this is bound to be, since KITA methods require far less thought.
Engaging fully with your staff, understanding their wants, desires and values, getting to know them as individuals and developing strategies that achieve a continuous release of energy is more intensive and takes time to work.
But consider the advantages. This investment of time means you will eventually have less to do. Instead of constantly urging your people along and having to solve all the problems yourself, you'll be the leader of a group performing at a higher level of ability and productivity, giving you the chance to step back from fire-fighting and to consider the bigger picture.
Herzberg was not alone in identifying that leaders need invest in the development of their teams, and also of their own successors. See leadership theories. Douglas McGregor's X-Y Theory is central too. So is Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, from the individual growth perspective. And see also Bruce Tuckman's 'Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing' model. All of these renowned theories clearly demonstrate the need for teams, and the individuals within them, to be positively led and developed.
Your responsibility as leader is to develop your team so that it can take on more and more of your own responsibility. A mature team should be virtully self-managing, leaving you free to concentrate on all the job-enhancing strategic aspects that you yourself need in order to keep motivated and developing.
The technical content of this article was provided by UK-based expert in organizational development Blaire Palmer, which is gratefully acknowledged.
- free leadership self-test (which can also be used as a questionnaire/survey to assess leadership and motivation ability and effectiveness among managers and supervisors - MSWord format)
- personality theories and types - jung, myers briggs, keirsey, belbin, etc
- motivation theory
- adams' equity theory on job motivation
- brainstorming for team building and problem solving - how to
- emotional intelligence (EQ)
- herzberg's motivational theory
- mcgregor X-Y theory
- meetings - how to plan and run meetings
- team briefing process
- team building games - free games online
- team building games - ideas, theory and training
- training and developing people - how to
- transactional analysis - eric berne and early theory
- workshops - format and how to run
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© main content Blaire Palmer 2004-12; contextual material, edit, code, design Alan Chapman 2004-2012