How to engage employees in their work.

Survey after survey has reached the same conclusion: About 70% of employees are not engaged in their work.

Why is that? Is it a matter of a low level of motivation? What does the term motivation even mean?

We looked for help in different sources and finally came across a definition:

Motivation is literally the desire to do things. It’s a crucial element in the process of setting and attaining goals, and the research shows that you can influence your own levels of the motivation and self-control.

And where does this desire come from? Is it possibly a matter of incentives?

We found the answer to this question in Dan Pink’s talk: The puzzle of motivation, where we can hear that the bonuses, commissions and other contingent motivators such as: if you do this, then you get that — are effective only in some circumstances. But for a lot of tasks, they actually either don’t work or, often, even can do harm.

As long as the task involved only mechanical skills, bonuses worked as they would be expected to: the higher the pay, the better the performance. But once the task called for even a rudimentary cognitive skill, the larger reward led to poorer performance.

So now we know that material incentives are not always an answer. So what is?

The scientists who’ve been studying motivation have given us a new approach built much more around intrinsic motivation – around the desire to do things because they matter, or because we like them, or because they’re interesting, or because they are a part of something more important.

This sounds reasonable, but how does it work in practice?

We read in the Harvard Business Review about interesting research in the food service field which was conducted by Ryan W. Buell, an assistant professor at Harvard Business School; Tami Kim, a doctoral student at HBS; and Chia-Jung Tsay, an assistant professor at University College London.

They set up four scenarios inside a real cafeteria for two weeks. In the first, diners and cooks couldn’t see one another; in the second, the diners could see the cooks; in the third, the cooks could see the diners; and in the fourth, both the diners and the cooks were visible to one another. The researchers timed the preparation and conducted surveys about the service and food.

The results showed that when the cooks could see their customers, the food quality got higher ratings. When customers and cooks both could see one another, satisfaction went up 17.3%, and service was 13.2% faster. Transparency between customers and providers, according to the research seems to really improve service.

In earlier research from another field, Michael Norton and Ryan W. Buell found that when website creators publish videos on their sites which shows the preparation stage and which reveals the amount of work that they have done, customers appreciate and value the service significantly more.

Our motivation

These research results have encouraged us to reflect more on our own experience with measuring and feeling the our own motivation while developing the CayenneApps project. We were a  little bit surprised when we discovered that actually we also operate exactly in the same way as described above! Sometimes when there are dozens of small tasks to do and development of new functionalities in our product takes longer than we had estimated, our level of motivation decreases. We feel overwhelmed by the amount of work, and uncertainty about whether our vast amount of effort will be transformed into user satisfaction.

But instead of worrying, when we switch our thinking to concentrate on the positive feedback from our users or statistics which show that our new feature is being eagerly used, then the satisfaction and willingness to work even harder increase.

Moreover, we discovered that there is another powerful motivator that works – answering these questions again and again:

  • Why are we doing this?
  • What is our purpose in doing this and what do we want to achieve?  

Thinking about objectives helps us to keep on the right track.

Is answering the questions about purpose crucial?

On the TED talk How great leaders inspire action Simon Sinek says:

“Every single person, every single organization on the planet knows what they do, 100 percent. Some know how they do it, whether you call it your differentiated value proposition or your proprietary process. But very, very few people or organizations know why they do what they do. (…) And it’s those who start with “why” that have the ability to inspire those around them or find others who inspire them.

So, how can we increase the number of answers to the question “why?”?

First of all, we should begin with an analysis of our current situation  to understand the position which we are in as a company (this approach can also be easily applied to our own personal development process, although in this post we will focus on the business example).

There are a couple of methods that support this type of analysis, but we have already seen that in a real life situation a SWOT analysis is a simple but powerful tool that can be used to conduct this process, so let us tell you why.

During a workshop, the purpose of which was to motivate employees in a company that one of us worked, the coach suggested to the participants that they take part in experiment. We split up into tree groups and set goals for each team to conduct a SWOT analysis for our company. Participants were primarily people who closely cooperated with customers on a day-to-day basis and created sale offers for them, so they clearly knew what the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats of our company were. Each team eagerly focused on collecting valuable information to fill in the SWOT chart with.

Then, together we compared every list of features in the SWOT categories that were assembled by each team. We discovered that some of the features frequently reappeared and some were a real surprise for members of the other teams. The coach asked the participants to create a common SWOT that would collect the most important features in one place. After this process, we had a map of issues that needed to be dealt with and objectives that needed to be achieved.

The final result of our analysis was absolutely amazing and, what was even more important, the level of engagement of every employee was higher than we had previously expected. Because of their engagement in the SWOT discovery process and the setting of goals, the people were ready to start working on them right away. The feeling that we had an influence on the planning of future activities and knowing where we were all headed gave us a big boost of energy to continue our work.

This particular situation showed us how little is required to motivate people to act, and that simply ordering somebody to do something these days is not enough. Giving them the opportunity to participate in the defining of objectives and the sharing of knowledge about purposes and goals is crucial in order to motivate and engage people in their work.

Achieving a goal requires the ability to be persistent through varies obstacles and endurance to keep going in spite of difficulties. In one of our future posts we will share with you more information concerning methods that can help you to continue moving ahead with your long-term goals. We sincerely hope that you will conduct a SWOT analysis with your own team, and by doing so will discover the invaluable benefits that this method can have for your company and its employees.

You can find more information about conducting SWOT in our previous post: How to conduct SWOT? Step one: Analysis.

9 Comment

  1. says: Reply

    People need something that not only they believe in. But also makes them part of the system. So good pay = something to believe in. + Being more then just an employee. Makes them part of the system.

    1. We absolutely agree. Salary is also very important issue. You need feel that you earn enough to involve deeply in the company matters. When you feel that your salary is unfair you might probably feel used. Of course it doesn’t mean that it must be high, but it should be suitable 🙂

  2. […] If you are interested in reading more about motivation you can check out our post: “What motivates us? Why about 70% of employees are not engaged in their work”. […]

  3. […] reward or improvement stands behind this particular goal. And, as we proved in our previous article, knowing “why” is a highly efficient […]

  4. […] motivating and increasing the competence of the employees, […]

  5. […] discussed today by authors such as Dan Pink and Simon Sinek (we dedicated one of our previous posts to this issue) and “” movement that Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh […]

  6. […] reward or improvement stands behind this particular goal. And, as we proved in our previous article, knowing “why” is a highly efficient […]

  7. […] If you are interested in reading more about motivation you can check out our post: “What motivates us? Why about 70% of employees are not engaged in their work”. […]

  8. […] discussed today by authors such as Dan Pink and Simon Sinek (we dedicated one of our previous posts to this issue) and “” movement that Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh created is a […]

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