Motivating staff – Applying motivational theory in practice

If only we could feel this way everyday.

Applying Herzberg’s Dual Factor theory to motivate staff and employees in the real world – a practical experience

In a previous post I looked at motivational theory – what it is and specifically Herzberg’s Dual Factor theory. Over the last 6 months I’ve attempted to apply these techniques to my small team. Motivation is a key priority for me; I need the team to be producing to a high standard, so they need to be working effectively.

Feeling demotivated? Maybe the your hygiene factors have worn thin…

Addressing ‘hygiene factors’

As I see it, Hygiene factors are not motivational; they create an environment where there is no dissatisfaction. This forms the foundation that allows the manager (me) to motivate others.

Herzberg's Dual Factor Theory
Herzberg separated Hygiene Factors from Motivational Factors. You can’t motivate without providing the underlying hygiene factors first

I’ve split Hygiene factors into: those I can directly control and; corporate elements that I can only influence.

Those I can control:

  • Supervisions – I schedule supervisions every month and use these to set individual priorities, identify successes and help overcome challenges. I’m encouraging the team to understand and be satisfied with their individual roles, and to develop a sense of teamwork.
  • Working conditions – I secured funding to improve the windowless basement office space we inhabit. I don’t believe it’s motivated the team, but I think it has helped us feel a part of the wider organisation, and not a forgotten basement dwelling resource.
  • Interpersonal relationships – Teamwork is more important than ever and I’m encouraging the team to support each other as much as possible. I’m also tackling a general lack of enthusiasm for communicating via any means other than email and encouraging attendance at networking events.

Those I can influence only:

  • Pay and job security – I agree with Herzberg on pay, at least for this little public sector team: Pay isn’t the motivator, but lack of pay, job (in)security and changes to terms and conditions have undermined motivation.
  • Company policies – Reviewing policies hasn’t been easy or popular. It’s involved negotiation with management, research into limitations and better ways of delivering, often through shifting responsibilities. If we can get this right, we can make our task more realistic and deliverable.

Addressing ‘motivational factors’

Addressing ‘motivational factors’

It’s struck me how interlinked motivational factors are. Unlike the hygiene factors, which feel very compartmentalised – motivational factors are greatly interlinked and can’t be approached in isolation. I’ve found challenging projects and unique opportunities are good ways of involving all motivation elements at once.

I’ve been attempting to give challenging and interesting work. It’s a delicate process, I don’t want to demotivate by overloading and I have to really sell it so it isn’t viewed as extra work they shouldn’t have to do.

I make sure they have responsibility for their work. This is hard for me, I can’t afford for projects to fail, so I have to stop myself from getting too involved. It’s nerve-racking! On the flip side, I make sure their name is on the project so they carry as much of the responsibility for failure as recognition for its success.

Challenging tasks give opportunities to demonstrate capabilities, and a sense of achievement on completion. You definitely can’t get that from everyday repetitive tasks – it comes from being pushed and stretched.

I find giving recognition pretty natural to do (maybe because I’m genuinely surprised at high quality products!). Some early management training I took told me:

‘achievement should be recognised immediately when someone does something worth recognition.’

Don’t delay, say it right away.

I’m also collecting messages of thanks and praise on a ‘Thank You’ board in the office. The team can see the value that others place on us and the extra mile we’re prepared to go. I’m hoping that the more we see of this, the more the team will be willing to deliver the best.

Advancement and growth is also important for this. I make it clear that by taking on more challenging work, I will help them develop the skills they need to deliver. It’s a carrot, a reward, as well as helping my team develop new capabilities that helps the service develop.

Results and learning from application

If only we could feel this way everyday.

After 6 months my team does appear to be highly motivated… to do as little as possible! Although they can surprise me at times with willingness to drive through larger projects and supporting each other, so maybe it is working.

Herzberg’s theory is very general – A good manager looks at each team member individually to identify what motivates them and how they like to work.

The interlinking ‘Motivational Factors’ demonstrates to me how delicate and complex motivation is. There’s no magical button, it needs to be thought through and linked together. It’s also easily undermined by a breakdown of hygiene factors.

It’s been hard for me to focus on managing motivation when there are so many pressures. This is perhaps a false economy, if I concentrated more on motivating the team, maybe I’d be able to share more of the work.

Now my current biggest concern is keeping my own motivational levels up.

If anyone has any other suggestions for motivation, please leave your suggestions in the comments, I’d definitely be interested in hearing them.

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