Originally posted on 3 Jan 2014

You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to know that motivation of employees has been a key issue in business for a long time. That’s because:

a) as business competition has become tougher both in domestic and international markets, companies have looked for new ways to increase their bottom line results;
b) downsizing and other “leaner- company” methods means that corporations must achieve more with less resources;
c) an obvious, yet typically underused, corporate asset is its human resources – employee motivation is important since it’s one of the factors required to succeed.

Self-motivation Vs “couldn’t care less” attitude

Different people have different personalities. For example, some people are self-motivated whilst others display a “couldn’t care less” attitude to life and its challenges. Coming from a humble background myself, I suppose you could say I’ve achieved quite a lot in my life so far. But, strangely, I don’t see it that way at all. In fact, I really believe that I could have done more. My mother was a driving force. I never gave her the credit for that. She did influence me a lot.

But so did my father – he had certain simple values but they were strong values. Like honesty and integrity. He probably wouldn’t have admitted to owning them – but that’s how I see it. The culture in our household was a challenging one. There was no room for whingers and if you adopted a “couldn’t care less attitude” you’d probably get a whack round the head. So maybe personality can be taught – or is it a genetic thing (or both)?

The effects of positive motivation

Some 12 years ago, I attended a seminar at Roffey Park Management Institute in Sussex. The topics were wide and varied and offered an opportunity to think about management issues in a new light. One interesting idea concerned the role of music to enhance the effects of positive emotion – in other words, motivation. Because of direct connections with the brain, when information is linked to music there’s a good chance that the brain will encode it in its long-term storage system. Recollection of happy times and circumstances act as a stimulus for motivation. At the other end of the scale, absence of music can retard child brain development. One of the reasons that music affects learners is that the processing of music involves both sides of the brain.

Interestingly, music touches other emotions too: People with dementia gain a great deal of comfort (and motivation) when listening to music from long ago – for example, wartime songs.

So, if you are to motivate your employees, what emotions are the most likely to trigger a response from them? One thing is for sure, money alone isn’t the answer.

Maslow and Motivation

Abraham Harold Maslow was an American psychologist. He is noted for his conceptualisation of a “hierarchy of human needs”, and is considered the founder of humanistic psychology.

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs focuses ultimately on the person striving to attain “self-actualisation” (reaching their full potential). He acknowledged that there are lower, yet stronger, needs that must be satisfied before needs higher on the hierarchy are activated.

After the basic physiological needs of hunger, thirst and sex, humans have a terrific need for personal safety.

Next on the Maslow’s hierarchy is the need for love and the feeling of belonging to a person or group. A good example of this is Elliott’s need to be accepted by Michael’s (played by Robert Macnaughton) friends in E.T., Elliott (played by Henry Thomas), a lonely child, was abandoned by his father and has been excluded by his brother’s friends. It’s his need for friends that motivates his relationship with E.T.

I have written a blog on other examples of motivation from movies here which shows what lessons we could learn and apply to our businesses.

Martin Pollins
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