Why managers struggle to motivate employees


Many managers fails to effectively motivate their team. Photograph: iStock

Many managers fails to effectively motivate their team. Photograph: iStock



The science of motivation is well established, but managers still struggle with how to motivate employees effectively.

Why do most motivational practices fail? In our view, there are four major reasons:

1. A simplistic approach to goal setting

While goal setting is a well-researched technique for driving motivation and performance, it is not as simple as practitioners assume. For instance, research shows that stretch goals work well when the job is transactional and inputs and outcomes can be precisely defined.

In contrast, when motivating someone who is working on a complex or creative task, asking people to “do their best” will produce better results.

2. Biased evaluations of performance

Most managers seem to have a natural proclivity to reward employees who are like them. This leads to distorted evaluations of performance, harms diversity, and creates an unfair and highly political climate.

If managers become aware of this in-group bias, they will be more motivated to seek objective data to evaluate their employees’ potential and performance.

3. The boring nature of work

The best way a leader can drive motivation is by designing jobs well and putting people in the right roles. This means paying close attention to the functional and psychological characteristics of the job and helping each person to achieve something they see as meaningful.

4. Useless feedback

There is an astonishing gap between the vast academic evidence for the importance of accurate, constructive feedback and the poor quality of feedback most employees receive at work. Indeed, many feedback interventions actually demotivate people, even when the focus is on positive aspects of performance.

– Copyright Harvard Business Review

Previously published in The Irish Times.


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