Motivating people is a myth. People cannot be motivated by others. They are motivated from within. Leaders can however, set up an environment in which people are able to motivate themselves.

To set up an environment that enables employees to be motivated, leaders need to understand what the motivational needs of individuals and groups are. Determining the ?what’s in it for me? for individual employees and workgroups that is consistent with goals and strategies of the organisation is the key to improving motivation for individuals and groups of employees.

A base for understanding what motivates human beings is found in the theories by Maslow and Herzberg.

Maslow’s theory is that motivating people depends on a hierarchy of needs: that hierarchy being physiological needs, safety needs, belonging needs, esteem needs and self actualisation needs.

Physiological needs are the very basic needs such as air, water, food, sleep, shelter, etc. Safety needs have to do with personal safety and security including job security. Belongingness is the desire to belong to groups: clubs, work groups, religious groups, family, gangs, etc. There are two types of esteem needs. First is self-esteem which results from competence or mastery of a task. Second, there’s the attention and recognition that comes from others. The need for self-actualization is “the desire to become everything that one is capable of becoming.”

Maslow’s theory postulates that humans are motivated by the needs above the minimum set of needs which are fulfilled. People who have fulfilled a particular set of needs are not likely to be motivated by an environment which fulfils needs at lower levels. Conversely, people are also unlikely to be motivated by an environment which fulfils needs at a much higher level when their lower level needs have not been fulfilled.

For example, people who are struggling to cope with the basic physiological needs of sufficient water, food and shelter are unlikely to be motivated by self actualisation, characterised by seeking knowledge and ?inner peace?. Similarly, people who have a safe home, a secure family and a healthy ego fuelled by the accumulation of material goods are not going to be motivated by the provision of financial rewards.

Herzberg’s theory is about the hygiene factors needed to stop employees from being demotivated and the factors which, if the hygiene factors are taken care of, will provide an environment to motivate people.

The hygiene factors included in the job environment encompass the company, its policies and its administration, the kind of supervision which people receive while on the job, working conditions interpersonal relations, salary, status and security. These factors do not lead to higher levels of motivation but without them there is dissatisfaction.

Herzberg’s motivation theory involves what people actually do on the job. The motivators are achievement, recognition, growth or advancement and interest in the job.

When applying these theories, leaders must understand some of the personal circumstances of the individuals and groups to develop the environment that allows individuals and groups to motivate themselves and provide an overall approach that reinforces the desired motivation.

Understanding what employees consider to be the basic physiological needs is a starting point. Do employees consider the basic needs to be a roof over their head and food for their family or a house they own and a car? Is it different from one workgroup to another? Be careful, the definition of these needs will change over time for individuals and groups and they will not necessarily match your own definition.

In my own experience, the removal of a bonus for not hitting targets de-motivated staff well beyond that which might be expected. In 20:20 hindsight the bonus had, over the years, become a means by which the employees provided their basic needs of a home. It had become part of their mortgage payments.

For employees whose basic needs are fulfilled, it may be necessary to understand whether delegation of responsibility and authority will cater to their self esteem needs. For example, giving them projects for which they are accountable and have the resources and competence to complete.

Care has to be taken with processes and policies. Processes and policies which are in contradiction of people’s motivators will depress motivation. A study of Herzberg dis-satisfiers reveals that administration and policy has the highest impact on motivation being a dis-satisfier on 36% of occasions. However, processes and policies which motivate individuals may not be aligned to an organisation’s strategy and objectives.

Further, a robust performance management system that recognises and rewards people in a way that fits their motivators is necessary for developing an environment that allows individuals and groups to motivate themselves.

Developing an environment that improves employee’s motivation is hard work. There is no one size fits all solution, as motivation is driven by ?what’s in it for me?.