When I was a reporter in 1990s, the newspaper's editor-in-chief would put together a weekly wrap-up in which some reporters would be complimented for scoops or well-written stories.
As much as it was a way to provide some public kudos to motivate the troops, it also made people less motivated because some reporters, who had done yeoman's work, would get upset if their stories weren't recognized.
The weekly wrap-up illustrates how difficult it can be to manage and motivate employees - many of whom respond to different kinds of carrots and sticks. Keeping employees engaged and productive can be one of the biggest challenges facing managers for companies of all sizes.
As someone with a pretty strong work ethic, I have always been fascinated with the things that motivate people beyond the possibility of getting a raise. What is it about some workplaces in which employees seem to be content and productive? Are they better paid? Is it the Friday afternoon snacks and refreshments? Or is it the kitchen full of snacks, candy and soft drinks?
I asked someone working for a client recently about why their employees stayed for so long. In some respects, the answer was disappointing: the hours were reasonable and they were given a week off during Christmas. I was looking for something with a little more sizzle, but perhaps sane hours and a bonus week of holidays is an effective way to motivate people.
I came across another interesting take on employee motivation after stumbling upon a TED talk by author Dan Pink, whose latest book is Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. (TED, short for Technology, Entertainment and Design, is a U.S. private non-profit foundation known for its conferences and online Internet talks devoted to "ideas worth spreading.")
Mr. Pink explored 50 years of behavioural science to make some interesting conclusions about how people are motivated to high performances. Without getting too deep into the details, he discovered that money is not a key factor.
Instead, Pink cites autonomy (the ability to work independently), mastery (the opportunity to get better at something) and purpose (the notion that you're working to support something bigger than ourselves) as some of the most effective considerations for getting people to perform better.
Within the current work environment, motivation could be a major theme this year. Many companies are still lean and mean after slashing employees last year to weather the recession. Meanwhile, business seems to be improving, which means that employees need to work even harder.
The challenge facing many managers will be how to motivate employees when their own personal motivation is no longer working hard to keep their jobs. As the economy improves, job security could become less of an issue, which means companies may have to start dangling more carrots.
To view Dan Pink's TED talk go to http://www.ted.com/talks/view/id/618
Special to the Globe and Mail
Mark Evans is a principal with ME Consulting, a content and social media strategic and tactical consultancy that creates and delivers 'stories' for companies looking to capture the attention of customers, bloggers, the media, business partners, employees and investors. Mark has worked with three start-ups - Blanketware, b5Media and PlanetEye - so he understands how they operate and what they need to do to be successful. He was a technology reporter for more than a decade with The Globe and Mail, Bloomberg News and the Financial Post. Mark is also one of the co-organizers of the mesh, meshUniversity and meshmarketing conferences.