How to Harness Employee Motivation for Management Success

The 10 key qualities companies are looking for in top talent.

The 10 key qualities companies are looking for in top talent.

Employee motivation is a key indicator of long-term organizational success. Managers can strategically use a deeper understanding of motivation to ensure their company is a place that employees love to stay.

Let’s start by talking about why employees – your talent – are important. This might seem rudimentary, but it’s a necessary foundation.

Quick. Do you agree with this statement: it’s clear to me how we could achieve our company mission, goals, and maintain our competitive advantage by replacing the entirety of our essential employees with robots within 5 years. 10 years? 20 years?

WHAT?! No way, right? It’s my guess that you probably don’t even want that.

Employees are the people who get things done, who are the linchpin to driving a company into the future, and solidifying a company’s competitive advantage in the market. They have new ideas and institutional knowledge and challenges to assumptions, and creative ways of dealing with problems.

Employees are with you through radical transformations in focus, mission, operations, structure, and function. In 2018, Harvard Business Publishing found that 96 percent of companies surveyed are in the midst of a transformation or expect to be within the next 5 years. This could mean crafting new competitive strategies or redefining business models to adapt to changes in the organizational environment.

Your employees will be with you through that. And they will be critical to your company moving through a transformation, becoming more nimble, more successful, reaching new heights. When employees like what they’re doing, they’re committed. They want to make it work.

They also have motivations, and needs, and limits.

The extent to which a company is attuned to and responsive to these factors will influence the long-term success of that company.

I wear two hats in my company. One is where I am in the role of strategically advising organizations as they build an internal culture where employees are thriving, effective, challenged, and committed.

With my other hat, I work with individuals in a career coaching capacity. Helping them to understand their career potential, get clear on their professional purpose, and help them find an organization that aligns with them. During these coaching sessions, I most frequently hear this statement:

“I love what I’m doing, but it’s where I’m doing it that’s the problem. I thought this would be a great position for me, and I’ve been trying to make it work for years.”

Then, they’ll describe a number of organizational factors that result in their work serving as a net drain to the overall vibrancy of their lives and their overall sense of purpose and vitality.

And a job that could be deeply motivating instead turns into a great source of stress – becoming what feels like the only thing they ever think about, causing the employee to have emotional reactions at work that get in the way of them doing their job effectively, making them question their decisions, their capabilities, and their competency.

All of this cuts against your effectiveness as a company and the ability to meet your ambitious goals.

Watching this phenomenon over the last several years, it often comes back to working at an organization that puts a priority on hiring people with certain types of qualities – often qualities that would make someone a high performer – and inadvertently, unintentionally demotivating –and sometimes even distressing—the very same type of people the company consistently tries to recruit.

This phenomenon is deeply problematic. After all, retention, turnover, and the ability secure top tier new hires are the most often cited workforce management challenges. In a 2018 survey of HR professionals by the Society of Human Resources Management, turnover costs and losing their future leaders to other companies was cites as the most problematic HR challenge.

Could some of that loss have been prevented?

We know the key reasons a focus on reducing turnover and effectively recruiting great talent pays off:

  • Turnover is extremely costly – in real dollars as well as loss of institutional knowledge.

  • Unwanted turnover affects the performance of an organization and directly detracts from an organization’s ability to maintain its competitive advantage and meet its business goals.

  • As the availability of skilled employees continues to decrease, it will only become increasingly difficult to retain sought after employees, when there are a lot of amazing places this top talent can decide to work.

But how do we bridge the gap?

 I contend that we need to focus on the fundamentals of motivation, and what how that affects the future success of your company, your industry, and the overall workforce.

Innovative, forward thinking companies provide opportunities for their employees to be intellectually challenged and part of transformational breakthroughs, mission achievement, and core contributors that can make the world a better place.

This is highly motivational.

For people who are inspired by having a purpose driven career, a mission could be deeply motivating, but that’s not enough.

It’s not just what you do, it’s how you do it.

Each company's relative ability to succeed will depend on its appetite for creating an organizational culture where employees are thriving, effective, challenged, committed, and most important from my perspective -- motivated.

So how do we measure this?

In Q2 2019, I studied over 100 posted open job descriptions to build a profile of the ideal candidates companies tend to look for. I studied how companies tend to describe themselves, and how they describe their ideal hire.

I then took this profile and mapped each aspect of the ideal candidate to the motivations driving these types of employees to excel professionally.

Over the next several blog posts, I’m going to walk through a summary of my findings – it’s the 10 key qualities companies are looking for in top talent, and what they might be doing that’s driving employees away.

Follow along and learn how to harness employee motivation for management success.