Retaining staff

“Motivation is a complex thing and influencing it is complex too,” says Mark Thompson, consultant at Hay Group.

Mark ThompsonI once played in a hockey team that included a number of players who worked for the Metropolitan Police. One of these was our star striker but on one occasion he turned up much the worse for wear and not at his goal-scoring best. His condition was not due to the bottle but a result of a night spent hiding in a dustbin outside a suspect’s house with the intention of leaping out and making an arrest when said suspect came back from a night out. Our striker was a big fellow and the dustbins in those days were not the cavernous wheelie-bins of the modern age so he was cooped-up to put it mildly. It was winter, too, and so the dustbin rattled all night in time with his teeth.

More recently, a newspaper gave prominent coverage to a photographer who hid in car boot for a considerable time in the hope of getting some snaps of Prince George, the two-year old third in-line to the British throne.

Why am I telling you this? Because these tales illustrate how far the highly-motivated will go in pursuit of their goals at work. What can we learn from them about motivation that we can use to fire-up the one fifth of employees in the UK who are ineffective (according to Hay Group Insight’s surveys of employee engagement and enablement)? Looking at these cases, it brings to life a few things that we have known for a long time…

The relationship between motivation and pay is complicated

Whilst a Police Constable’s salary is OK, it’s by no means enough to make you rich so our hero in the bin was probably not thinking of the wage packet awaiting him at the end of the month. The photographer, on the other hand, was more likely to be driven by avarice: a picture of the young royal would be worth much more than a day snapping newly-weds on a Saturday afternoon. In spite of the differences, however, it is unlikely that either would contort themselves for free and both would be out of boot or bin in short-shrift if they won the lottery.

Intrinsic motivation is complicated too

With pay relatively un-enticing, that leads one to conclude that the Police Officer was motivated by other things. The chance to protect society from crime, perhaps, but also to gain some kudos with his peers and maybe recognition from his boss.  But what of the dastardly photographer – one of the breed of paparazzi who many blame for causing the death of Prince George’s grandmother? He certainly didn’t have the moral high ground but he didn’t do what he did simply for the cash either: an exclusive on the front pages must give the photographer a buzz and, in this case too, kudos with his peers is probably a factor.

We’re all different

If our two protagonists swapped places it’s unlikely that either would be happy with their lot. The photographer might not think the pay was worth a night in a cramped bin-cum freezer; the Police Officer might not be comfortable with the ethics associated with invading the privacy of a young family whatever the monetary reward.

These three facts are worth remembering. They explain why different people react differently to exactly the same stimulus. For example, if you have £1,000 to give away to each member of your team remember that some would like to blow it on a special weekend away so they would love a lump sum bonus, others want to secure a higher mortgage so they’ll want it added to base salary and still others will want to invest it in their pension. To get the best return on your investment in terms of motivation you will need to tailor the ‘offer’ to meet the preferences of each individual.

This isn’t the only thing you should do. Motivation is a complex thing and influencing it is complex too:  there’s no KISS (‘keep it simple, stupid’) solution. But understanding what drives people at an individual level and responding accordingly is a good start. Recruiting individuals with the right values is important, too, taking into account the demands of the role they might be doing to ensure a good fit.  Selecting only on the basis ability – to hide for long periods in a confined and uncomfortable space, for example – is not enough!

This is easier said than done: most organisations seek to deliver a consistent approach to reward and recognition and many large employers manage the reward function separately from the learning and development function, making a joined-up approach to managing motivation difficult. It is time, perhaps, for HR functions to break down the barriers between the different ‘centres of excellence’ and to recognise that all HR leaders, whatever their role, exist to manage talent and motivation.