In her Personality Matters series, Leslie Sachs examines the personalities and people issues that are found in technology groups from cross-functional, high-performance teams to dysfunctional matrix organizations.
Managers often need to spend a considerable amount of time ensuring that their team members are motivated to do the best work possible. While pay, benefits, and a flexible work environment are often put forth as a key reason to apply for a job, how do you effectively motivate employees to be their best even under difficult circumstances?
Motivating a team can be a very difficult task. Managers often need to spend a considerable amount of time ensuring that their team members are motivated to do the best work possible. While pay, benefits, and a flexible work environment are often put forth as a key reason to apply for a job, truly motivated employees maintain a high level of discretionary effort on an ongoing basis.
So, how do you effectively motivate employees to be their best even under difficult circumstances? Effective leaders motivate others through their own behaviors and also create an environment where each team member can be successful. This article will help you understand how to leverage the concepts in positive psychology to motivate your team.
Psychologist Abraham Maslow proposed a theory of motivation that is based upon a hierarchy of needs and drives. It begins with physiological needs, including basic necessities such as food and water, progresses to less concrete requirements such as safety, and then reaches for more conceptual ideals such as a sense of love and belonging. Self-esteem and self-actualization formed the highest levels of Maslow’s hierarchy, which provided the framework for motivation that was widely accepted and used by many managers to understand how to motivate their employees.
Maslow’s work was easy to operationalize and was compelling due to the simple fact that most people are indeed motivated by the need for pay and benefits such as medical insurance and paid time off. Once these basic needs are satisfied, many employees seek work-life balance as well as a flexible work environment. Many technology professionals also value technical training and projects that allow them to learn new technologies.
Autonomy is one of the most cherished factors in job satisfaction, and many employees are highly motivated to demonstrate their abilities in exchange for flexible work arrangements that carry with them significant autonomy. Many successful companies are learning that providing flexible environments that accommodate working moms or dads who are highly skilled but desire a work-life balance helps the organization attract and retain valuable employees. Positive psychology is taking motivation much further by focusing on providing opportunities to bring out positive behaviors through various reward and recognition programs.
Some technology firms go as far as providing time off for employees to work on side projects. Hackathons (also known as codefests) provide opportunities for employees to work on special projects in a highly competitive environment. These approaches take technology innovation and add a sense of competition as well as acknowledgement of achievement, which can also be very motivating.
Successful managers look for opportunities to elicit and motivate positive behaviors. One example of this phenomenon is the open source industry in which many accomplished technology professionals work long hours to produce high-quality software and then give it away for free. Maslow would point out that many software engineers who help with open source projects have a day job where they meet all of their needs for their physiological and basic maintenance needs. Participation in volunteer activities provides a sense of belonging, self-esteem, and, ultimately, self-actualization as their peers recognize them as industry leaders.
Positive psychology focuses on the factors that lead technology experts to exhibit positive behaviors. Moving beyond the individual, it is essential for organizational culture to support positive behaviors. Successful managers create environments where employees feel empowered to exhibit positive behaviors. This should include setting clear, achievable goals that can be measured and understood by key stakeholders. Some organizations add a sense of competition to the ecosystem by identifying outside competitive forces that threaten the success of the firm. Employees who perceive these outside forces to be legitimate may indeed be highly motivated. Although managers who try to motivate by fear alone may find themselves losing their best talent, fear that is perceived to be legitimate may be quite motivating.
In Israel, testers working on the Iron Dome missile defense system were led by a woman who happened to be nine months pregnant as the project was nearing completion. The team managed to complete the test cycle two weeks early. Rolling out the missile defense system to protect civilians from attack was certainly viewed as a desirable goal, and obviously, the team was highly motivated.
You might not be working on a missile defense system, but teams can also be highly motivated by positive environments that are fun and rewarding. Learning organizations that value creativity and understand the importance of work-life balance and autonomy provide the type of culture the positive psychology movement has proven will usually bring out the best in employees.