It’s time rethink how to motivate your workers

By Pat Sisneros and Juergen Kneifel Herald Columnists

How motivated are your employees to do a great job?

A recent survey of 90,000 employees from 18 countries showed that just a fifth, 21 percent, were truly engaged in their work. An astounding 38 percent were mostly or entirely disengaged. The remaining 41 percent were in the unenthused middle, neither excited nor disengaged about their work.

These numbers are almost unbelievable — that 4 out of 5 workers would spend eight hours a day, over 200 days a year doing something they don’t love and working for organizations for which they have no passion.

These survey results are not only a sad commentary on how many business organizations are run, but the results also reinforce our long-held belief that leading people is a hard skill to develop and that too few business leaders and entrepreneurs actually excel at it.

Imagine for a moment the tremendous impact you could have on your business by improving the motivation levels of your staff. There would be increased productivity, better customer service and ultimately an improved bottom line.

A highly motivated staff will result in lower turnover and will attract other like-minded employees. Since such a small percentage of business leaders are doing the leadership part of their job well, you should view improving your leadership skills as an opportunity to create a competitive advantage over other businesses — with a potentially greater payoff than developing a better product feature than a competitor.

We also see the results as an important reminder to all entrepreneurs to carve out time each day to think about and reflect on improving your leadership and management skills. It takes time to improve and practice these skills. You need to become a student of leadership.

One place to start on this journey is to read a new book, “Drive — The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us,” by Daniel Pink. Pink is also the author of the New York Times bestseller, “A Whole New Mind.”

In “Drive,” Pink strongly makes the case that business leaders need a new way of thinking about motivation — that the traditional way of using “extrinsic motivators or a system of rewards and punishments — carrots and sticks” often no longer works. In fact, he believes that “if-then rewards diminish performance, crush creativity and crowd out good behavior.”

Pink suggests a new system based on more intrinsic motivators is critical to successfully leading any size organization in the future. He makes a very persuasive argument that “people desire and need autonomy over task, time team and technique.” He also believes people need “mastery — the urge to get better and better at something that matters, and purpose — the yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves.”

We found the toolkit near the end of the book especially useful in helping to think about practical ways to implement his ideas. He provides concrete strategies and techniques for improving motivation for individuals and organizations. He also lists additional books on this topic and highlights other innovative business thinkers on motivation.

Considering the leadership issues your business may encounter is a lot of hard work and requires patience and perseverance to build your set of skills, but it is critical to ensuring the long-term survival of your business.

Pat Sisneros is the vice president of College Services at Everett Community College. Juergen Kneifel is an associate faculty member in the EvCC Entrepreneurship program. Please send your comments to entrepreneurship@ everettcc.edu