Opinion Columns & Blogs

DR. CUMMINGS: Do you motivate your people?

Suddenly, you’re the leader: supervisor, manager, director, vice president, or maybe, the parent or pastor or coach. The title matters little. You have a team of people who look to you for leadership and that means inspiration. Your job is to inspire them, to motivate them to do things they probably wouldn’t do without you. How do you do this? How do you motivate people?

Abraham Maslow knew. And he spent his short life teaching us the secret of motivation as a New York psychologist at Columbia University. It works like this: think of that young worker who joined your team about six months ago, we’ll call him Joe. Before you wonder how to motivate Joe to excel in his work, you have to ask these questions:

1. Does Joe have the basics? That is, do we pay him a fair wage on time and allow him the necessary breaks during the day? Everybody has a different set of “basics” depending on their condition in life, and every leader should know what they are. Without those basics, nobody will be willing to work for long.

2. Does Joe feel safe on the job? That is, both physically in our building and psychologically from fear of being fired? Feeling safe on the job is just as necessary as safety in the home. Everybody has to feel safe. Without safety, it’s goodbye.

3. Does Joe have friends here? That is, have we provided an environment for company picnics and outings as well as business teams that give him a sense of belonging? Many people quit going to church because they don’t feel welcome. It’s the same thing at work. Without a friendly atmosphere, who wants to stay?

So, does Joe have all three of these needs met? If the answer is “I think so,” do you believe Joe is motivated? Before you say “Yes,” watch Abe Maslow as he leans over his professorial desk and shakes his curly hair and bushy mustache and shouts: “Not yet!”

Maslow maintains that we must by all means provide these three necessities to Joe, but don’t kid yourself, these three things will not motivate Joe to buy into the inspiring vision that motivates you. These three things are called “de-motivators,” that is, if Joe doesn’t have them, he will certainly be de-motivated and probably quit, but if he does have them he won’t immediately be motivated, he just won’t moan and groan about their absence.

So what gets Joe fired up? What gets Joe to jump out of bed and race to work and forget all about the clock? What makes Joe so enthused about his job that he doesn’t even know how much his salary has increased? Ask two final questions:

4. Is Joe’s job meaningful and stretching? Have you structured his job in such a way that he feels he’s contributing significantly and constantly growing? There’s nothing worse than wasting eight hours a day doing something that has no meaning whatsoever to anyone. On the other hand, you can make cleaning out septic tanks meaningful -- if you plan it out and structure it properly. There is no job -- anywhere -- that can’t be made meaningful. That’s what leaders are for. And this is when Joe gets motivated.

5. Do you give Joe the praise and recognition he deserves when he does a good job? It doesn’t have to be a raise. It can be as simple as an “attaboy.” But Joe has to feel good about what he’s doing and he has to know you feel good about it, too. And you won’t have to worry about his mistakes and errors, he’ll identify those long before you see them, because now he’s motivated.

Abraham Maslow maintained that if the leader handles these five steps, the Joes of this world -- in every industry and organization -- will enter into a realm of “self-actualization” where they will be problem-solvers and spontaneously creative.

So if your Joe is not motivated, sit down and ask these five questions:

1. Have I taken care of the basics?

2. Have I ensured his/her safety, physically and psychologically?

3. Have I made this place friendly?

4. Have I made sure that his/her job is both meaningful and stretching?

5. Do I reward and recognize when needed?

If any of your answers is “No,” get to work. This is why we pay you the big bucks!

Dr. Bill Cummings is the CEO of Cummings Consolidated Corporation and Cummings Management Consultants. His website is www.billcummings.org.