When it comes to motivating people, we often spend an inordinate amount of time trying to bring up people who are not performing at the highest levels. When we do this we tend to focus on weaknesses rather than strengths and talent. The process is arduous and results come slowly, if at all.
When you think of motivating the people on your team, do you find ways to make them content? Is your goal in motivating them to create harmony in the workplace so that everyone is happy?
If you’re spending a lot of time trying to motivate people by making them happy, it is probably because you are trying to motivate the people who are making the lesser contributions to your efforts. You might be spending too little time trying to motivate those who should be a major focus of your efforts—your top performers.
Your response to that statement might be, “Well, that’s because they seem to be able to motivate themselves,” but you would be wrong, according to several noted authorities on what motivates people. You are correct to a degree, because top performers do tend to be more autonomous, and they produce on a higher level than most. However, there are very specific things that motivate them, and those motivators come from people like you who lead them.
Rather than trying to make their high performers happy, leaders should focus on making them great, according to Mark Murphy, CEO of Leadership IQ, a consulting firm that provides best practices research and education to the world’s leading companies and their leaders. He is also author of Hundred Percenters: Challenge Your Employees to Give it Their All and They’ll Give You Even More.
The book cites a study of more than 500,000 leaders and employees that found that despite all of the money and effort that organizations expend on satisfying employees, 72 percent of employees admit they’re not giving their all at work. So how do you make your potential high performers great? You start by understanding what motivates them.
Murphy says that top performers all have a need for Achievement, Power or Adventure. Most high performing individuals go about their work in a way that satisfies one of these needs. It is important for you as a leader to take note of how your high performers are inspired so that you can more effectively motivate them.
Understand first that although there are some constants in motivation, there is not a list of common motivators that fits all high-performing people. They are people too, and people are all different. In fact, what motivates one high-performer might be extremely de-motivating for another.
There are some common points among top performers. Low performers like a pat on the back and positive feedback. They are content with general, positive performance evaluations, and feeling like you view them as a friend. High performers, on the other hand, have little time for accolades, unless they come at the end of a major project has exceeded everyone’s expectations. And if you ask them what they want out of their jobs, “happiness” would likely not be in the top three answers.
According to Murphy, Hundred Percenters who are driven by Achievement aren’t looking to get a lot of credit for a project or program, but they do want to be “graded” on their work. Achievement-driven top performers want to take a project to the peak of perfection—an A+.
“Scaling back your evaluations, making them kinder, gentler and with less candid feedback will really make your low performers happy, but it will absolutely kill your achievement-driven high performers,” Murphy wrote.
Then there are the hundred percenters who are driven by Power. Murphy says that these performers want to take complete charge of a high-profile project or program that everyone is watching, and they don’t want anyone standing tin their way or telling them how to do it.
Murphy points to a question on a widely used Gallup survey of employee satisfaction that asks whether you have a good friend at work. The value of this is a subject of debate, especially when it comes to high performers.
“Trying to engage employees by making sure everyone has a good friend at work will certainly appease your affiliative middle performers, but it will chase away Achievement or Power-driven high performers, according to Murphy.
Adventure-driven top performers are the innovators and risk takers, according to Murphy. They want to be given a challenge nobody else has met.
“Punishing innovative-types whose creations flamed out, while rewarding those steady-eddies who deliver consistent, if uninspired, results, will definitely attract security-driven middle performers,” Murphy said. Unfortunately, he says doing so protects the status quo and stifles innovation.
Often as a leader, there is not someone directly in charge of motivating you, so you need to take charge of your own motivation. This can be helpful in your inspiration of others. If you are an organizational leader, chances are very good that you already are a high performer. Think about what motivates you now, and what motivated you when you were coming up through the ranks.
Understanding how your high-performers tick is a very important issue for you to address as a leader. After all, who would rather lose, one of your “hundred percenters” or someone who just “gets by.” Focus some motivational time on your high performers and you may find that some of those others you are spending so much time trying to lift up may come along in the process.