12:06 AM, June 21, 2013 / LAST MODIFIED: 04:19 PM, June 20, 2013



Photo: Prabir Das Photo: Prabir Das

Getting people to give their best at work, even in trying circumstances, is one of the most enduring and slippery challenges faced by managers. Deciphering what motivates human beings is a centuries-old puzzle. Some of history's most influential thinkers about human behavior— Aristotle, Adam Smith, Sigmund Freud, and Abraham Maslow to name a few—have tried to understand its nuances and have taught us a great deal about why people do the things they do. A Mckinsey survey has shown that “employee motivation is sagging throughout the world – morale has fallen at almost half of all companies.”  That makes it more important than ever for managers to find ways to retain and motivate top performing employees.  It also means employees need to think about ways to keep themselves motivated and improve their morale.

To define motivation, managers often focus on four commonly measured indicators: engagement, satisfaction, commitment, and intention to quit. Certain drives influence some motivational indicators more than others. Fulfilling the drive to bond has the greatest effect on employee commitment, for example, whereas meeting the drive to comprehend is most closely linked with employee engagement. But a company can best improve overall motivational scores by satisfying all four drives in concert. The whole is more than the sum of its parts; a poor showing on one drive substantially diminishes the impact of high scores on the other three.

Iftekhar Ahmed Khan, an entrepreneur and restaurateur who owns several restaurants in Dhaka and Bangkok says, “We make sure that the employees feel engaged and proud of their job. Employees receive training to develop their skills in customer care and other services. We offer them bonuses and other incentives for outstanding performances. The success of my business depends on a well motivated and satisfied workforce.”

Deciphering what motivates people is a  centuries-old puzzle. Deciphering what motivates people is a centuries-old puzzle.

Maslow's hierarchy of needs theory states that humans have five interdependent levels of needs or motivators.  Physiological needs to stay alive and security are the most fundamental needs. They are followed by social needs for love and belonging and self-esteem needs – to feel worthy, respected, and have social status. The highest level of need refers to what a person's full potential is and the realisation of that potential. Maslow describes this level as the desire to accomplish everything one can. This theory suggests that once a need is satisfied, it stops being a motivator. Thus, in order to motivate employees, managers first must see what their needs are. Professor Neaz Ahmed, Institute of Business Administration at Dhaka University says, “For someone making Tk 150,000 a month, a raise of a few thousand taka is not a motivator. Their concern is whether they have job satisfaction or if the work is challenging and creative enough. On the other hand, a garment worker is worried about putting food on the table.  If we do not pay them enough and lecture them on being more productive, it will not work.”

Managers ought to have emotional intelligence-- the ability to identify, assess and influence one's own feelings and those of others. Many effective managers have a well developed form of emotional intelligence that allows them to manage their own emotions, as well as those of others within their organisation.  “The society is becoming very complex and stressful. In order to understand a fellow worker's mood and behaviour, emotional intelligence is required,” says Professor Ahmed.

It is a good sign that leading Bangladeshi companies have started to pay a lot of attention to these issues.  Jalaluddin Akand, head of HR, Transcom Ltd says, “We offer employees incentives and bonuses based on performance. Sometimes we send them abroad for training. Picnics are organised where employees can bring their family and get to know each other. We have group insurance and medical benefits. In the annual conference employees are appreciated and acknowledged for outstanding performance.”

In Singapore, “Quality Circles” are formed in almost all sectors of the economy in order to boost motivation and improve performance. A quality circle is a volunteer group composed of workers, usually under the leadership of their supervisor or an elected team leader, who are trained to identify, analyze and solve work-related problems and present their solutions to management in order to motivate and enrich the work of employees. Professor Ahmed says, “Quality Circles can play a vital role in boosting employee morale especially in manufacturing companies.”

In many organisations around the world some managers have an obtuse attitude toward motivation. Harry Levinson, a noted US psychologist in his book The Great Jackass Fallacy argues that it results in the powerful treating the powerless as objects; this destroys the individual's sense of worth and accomplishment.  It is responsible for the “motivational crisis” that afflicts many large organisations. Levinson argues successful managers must recognise the effect of the 'jackass fallacy' on their thinking and counter its effects in their organisations.

Managers need to take note of personality traits of employees and assign jobs accordingly. They must know their employees' strengths and weaknesses. For example, promotion-focused people are comfortable taking chances; they dream big and think creatively. They play to win. Prevention-focused people, in contrast, are vigilant and play to not lose, to hang on to what they have, to maintain the status quo. They are often more risk-averse, but their work is also more thorough, accurate, and carefully considered. These characteristics affect what they pay attention to, what they value, and how they feel when they succeed or fail.

Most of us believe that the best way to motivate ourselves and others is with external rewards like money—the carrot-and-stick approach. That's a mistake, says Daniel H. Pink in Drive: the Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us, his provocative and persuasive new book. The secret to high performance and satisfaction—at work, at school, and at home—is the deeply human need to direct our own lives, to learn and create new things, and to do better by ourselves and our world, according to Pink. He makes sense. How else can one explain all those people who built Wikipedia for nothing? Or philanthropic largesse à la Bill Gates or Warren Buffett?

Reward is important but there are other factors that drive motivation. Reward is important but there are other factors that drive motivation.

But creativity is undermined unintentionally every day in work environments. Teresa M. Amabile, a  professor  at the Harvard Business School writes in her essay titled ' How to Kill creativity', “When I consider all the organizations I have studied and worked with over the past 22 years, there can be no doubt: creativity gets killed much more often than it gets supported.” Research shows that it is possible to develop the best of both worlds: organisations in which business imperatives are attended to and creativity flourishes.

What sets the great boss apart from the average boss? What do great managers actually do?

Management guru Marcus Buckingham, the co-author of First, Break All the Rules in an essay writes that there are as many styles of management as there are managers. But there is one quality that sets truly great managers apart from the rest: They discover what is unique about each person and then capitalise on it. Great managers know and value the unique abilities and even the eccentricities of their employees, and they learn how best to integrate them into a coordinated plan of action.

Motivation is an issue that concerns the public sector as well. The main focus of the colonial era administration was the maintenance of law and order and generation of revenue. The focus of the post-colonial civil service has been the administration of development.  The degree of motivation in the bureaucracy and the values its members possess affect the developmental outcomes substantially. In the book Public Personnel Management in Asian Civil Services, a group of senior civil servants from Bangladesh, Korea, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Philippines , Indonesia, India and  Pakistan,  agree that the work atmosphere, the qualities of leadership, fairness and employee participation  are crucial in motivating employees. “If work units could be made to appear as an extension of the home and family atmosphere, a greater sense of belonging and higher motivation can result,” the group recommends. They also identify decentralisation of power, adequate salaries, non-material incentives, training and adjustment with the political system as strong motivating factors.

Abdus Sobhan Sikder, Senior Secretary, Ministry of Public Administration says, “Foundation courses are organised for the new recruits of different cadres to provide them with core skills of public administration and to foster inter-cadre cohesion. There are also specific training programmes for different cadres. Then junior officers are placed in the field under the supervision of a senior officer, for example a deputy commissioner. All these things act as motivating factor for the new recruits. Officers are evaluated annually on professionalism, honesty, sincerity and conduct with others.”

The interaction between the political system and civil service is an important factor in conditioning the motivation and values of the civil service—more specifically the relationship between the Minister in charge and the Secretary. The motivation of the civil servant can be seriously affected if his or her executive role is interfered with by political representatives. “The loyalty of the civil servants should be to the people they serve, not to any political party. Both the politicians and the civil servants have a responsibility to see to it that the administration can function free of any outside influence,” says the Secretary.

Compared to the private sector, the pay structure of the public sector is still low. Dr Mohammad Mohabbat Khan, professor, Department of Public Administration at Dhaka University and author of several books, says, “Motivation of public servants can be increased in three ways. Recruitment must be merit based, civil servants must be paid adequately and there should be a promotion policy based on their merit and efficiency. Training programmes have to be designed according to the training needs of the participants. Politicisation of the administration is a big concern in Bangladesh.”

The lack of managerial and administrative capacity is the single scarcest resource in a developing country. Motivation of employees is an important issue both at the private and public sector. Most of the theories on which motivational practices are designed are Western—American to be more precise. Indigenous models may be developed taking into consideration the local cultural context and customs and tradition of the people.

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