Motivation combined with capability tends to lead to effective behaviours, and behavior underpins performance. To get the right answer to the question above, it helps to ask the right question, and the question in this case would be: how do we get our employees to perform better? If someone has the capability but not the motivation to do something required to perform, then the necessary behavior is very unlikely to arise and they will not perform; similarly, if someone has the motivation but not the capability. You need both motivation and capability for performance.
Why motivation is key
The second question that follows on from this is: which is most important with regard to performance – motivation or capability? At first it would seem that the more important of the two would be capability, and there is often a great emphasis on training in the workplace to enhance that. The appropriate training is important and, after all, motivation is not trainable, so one might wonder what is the use in focusing on human motivation? But look more deeply and you will realize that motivation is much more important than capability in the wider context of both professional and personal life. In short this is because of two facts:
Motivation determines what you do; in many ways it determines the path you take at work (and in life). If you do not have the motivation, your capability becomes largely irrelevant. Not surprisingly then, motivation precedes capability and often leads to capability.
Given all this, the third question becomes very important: what can we do to increase motivation? To answer this you can split the factors affecting motivation into two parts: internal and external to the individual.
Internal factors: The internal factors include a person’s personality (values, beliefs, etc.). An important time to look at this is when recruiting individuals, and it is wise to use good psychometric instruments to help increase the accuracy of your decisions, such as the Universal Hierarchy of Motivation Professional Report (see accuratesurveys.com), especially as they are so cost-effective.
External factors: Key external factors are the systems and structure of the organization. But it is often difficult to predict how these affect human motivation. Consider the real-life example of a day-care centre that encountered tardy parents at closing time each day. This situation led to anxious children and frustrated careers. A solution put in place by several day-care centres in Haifa, Israel, was to fine parents $3 if they were more than 10 minutes late. Rather surprisingly, this solution had the opposite effect and the number of late parents more than doubled after the fine was introduced. It turned out that the guilt the parents felt in being late was motivating them to be on time, but now the payment of a small fine assuaged these feelings and they were less motivated to be punctual.
A good model on human motivation is helpful because it helps you to predict better what the actual outcomes will be. The Universal Hierarchy of Motivation (UHM) provides the basis for a complete understanding of human motivation so that you can accurately predict what behaviors will result from system or structural changes. For instance, many people still believe that bonuses make employees work harder and more effectively.
Alfie Kohn, a teacher-turned-writer, found that the more you reward a person with grades or incentives, the lower the person’s productivity. In this context, individuals become less intrinsically motivated. Bonuses (extrinsic motivators) actually reduce people’s performance on complex tasks because they limit individuals’ capacity to fulfil the task by changing their focus to how to get the best bonus.
So to get the best performance (or combination of people’s motivation and capability) from those employees you currently have in the organization, it is critical that you provide the structures and systems (including pay systems) that will help to motivate them at the higher levels. To be able to understand and predict what these are, you have to have a very good model or framework describing human motivation.
Once you have set up the environment in your organization that achieves this, only then is it worth investing time and money in training your employees. If you do it the other way around, the risk is that not only will the employees not use the new skills they acquire in their training but also they are more likely to leave the organization, which means someone else is likely to get all the investment you have made in them!
This is a slightly amended version of an article written by Mark Oliver, managing director and CEO of MarkTwo Consulting, and author of The Seven Motivators of Life. It has been shortened to make it suitable for web publishing.