Feb. 4, 2004
It gets the crew rowing in the same direction

There's a widely held misconception that the only factor that motivates a workforce is money. Too many managers, at every level, fail to understand that other effective methods can motivate a workforce. The key to motivation is getting employees to want to do a good job consistently. In this light, motivation must come from within an employee, while the supervisor must establish an environment that encourages employee motivation.

Recognizing needs

Every supervisor knows that some people are easier to motivate than others and wonder if some people are simply born more motivated. No person is exactly like another. Each individual has a unique personality and psychological makeup. Because people are different, it stands to reason that different factors motivate them. Not every employee expects or wants the same things from a job.

People work for different reasons. Some because they must they need money to pay bills. Others work because they want something to occupy their time. Others want a career and its related satisfactions. Because they work for different reasons, different factors motivate them.

People do things for a reason. It may be imaginary, inaccurate, distorted or unjustified, but, to the individual, it's a valid reason. And the supervisor must identify that reason before it becomes possible to understand the employee's behavior. Too often, a supervisor who dismisses the employee's reason as unrealistic or based on inaccurate information runs the risk of never understanding why employees behave as they do.

Another consideration in understanding employee behavior is the concept of the self-fulfilling prophecy, known as the Pygmalion effect. This concept refers to a tendency to live up to the supervisor's expectations. In other words, if the supervisor expects an employee to succeed, the employee usually will succeed. If one expects them to fail, that usually comes true.

The Pygmalion effect is alive and well in most plants. Most supervisors and managers acknowledge that they trust only a small percentage of their workforce to perform any assigned task effectively, while a larger percentage can't be trusted to perform even the simplest task without close, direct supervision.

Supervisors act on these beliefs in their interactions with the workforce. The result is that employees clearly understand where they fit into the supervisor's confidence and expectations. The "superstars" respond by working miracles and the "dummies" continue to plod along. Little, if any, effort is made to help the so-called underachievers improve their productivity.


Reinforced behavior is more likely to be repeated. There are four types of reinforcement: positive, negative, extinction and punishment.

Positive reinforcement provides a positive consequence in response to desired behavior. The majority of managers follow the traditional theory that assumes money is the only motivator. However, money can be a negative motivator. For example, most incentive bonus plans for production workers are based on total units produced within a specific time frame. Because there's nothing in the incentive that addresses product quality or production and maintenance costs, the typical result is an increase in scrap and total cash outlay.

Negative reinforcement involves giving a person the opportunity to avoid a negative consequence by exhibiting a desired behavior. Using both positive and negative motivation can increase the frequency of favorable behavior.

Punishment involves a negative consequence in response to undesirable behavior. Extinction refers to some behavior no longer being reinforced. Both extinction and punishment can decrease the frequency of undesirable behavior.

The management philosophy and methods individual supervisors adopt determine whether the workforce will strive for effective day-to-day performance constantly and consistently or continue to plod along as usual.

In many cases, a simple, sincere pat on the back or a handshake with a heartfelt "well-done" accomplishes more positive benefits than you think. It's not the monetary value, but the sincere recognition of ones supervisor of a job well done that has lasting, positive motivation. Try it!

E-mail Contributing Editor R. Keith Mobley, principal consultant, Life Cycle Engineering, at [email protected].


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