Tips on Motivation


Motivation is an abstract construct that cannot be seen or directly measured but can be felt and believed. It can be summarised as the amount of effort and energy that a person will expend to achieve a goal which depends on the value they place on the goal.

Professor Robert Taylor, writes that learning and development is the missing key to productivity improvement. He says that ‘Few UK firms give a top priority to the need for the creation of high skills/highly qualified workforce’ because their basic business activities do not require them to do so. According to the Office of National Statistics, French, German and US workers produce between a quarter and a third more than Britain’s workforce. Research by Proudfoot Consulting that suggests low productivity in the private sector cost the UK economy £88 billion in 2002. and that UK companies waste an average 85 of every employee’s 225 working days through mismanagement and other inefficiencies. The factors they identify include low morale, inappropriate qualifications, IT problems and poor communication.

Evidence from the Working in Britain survey suggests that levels of satisfaction are declining with workers less satisfied with work today than ten years ago. Satisfaction has declined especially in the areas of pay, prospects and training. The Work Foundation’s overview of work in the UK also shows that people’s satisfaction with their work has fallen between 1992 and 2000. In particular, the percentage of those satisfied with their training (hardly high at 31%, or fewer than a third of employees) has reduced to 22%.

It seems that UK companies just have not grasped the relationship between skills, training, development and motivation. Worryingly, if they continue with their head in the sand attitude, they will be  – and are being - left behind in the productivity stakes in the global economy.  How can training and development play in role in redressing the situation? To tap into people’s motivation requires a knowledge of people and an understanding of motivation research to engender genuine motivation rather than simple, short-term movement. The components of motivation are:

Studies show that there is a great misunderstanding between what managers believe their people want and what their people say they want. Kovach found that while employees as a whole ranked ‘interesting work’ as their most valued work characteristic their supervisors believed that ‘good wages’ were most important to employees. Kovach also discovered that ‘the rankings by the supervisors show that their collective perception of factors that motivate employees had not changed over the last 50 years’ But the work characteristics rankings reported by employees did change. For example, in 1946 ‘full appreciation of work done’ was ranked most important, but in 1995 workers ranked ‘interesting work’ as most important. It seems that managers once they leave ‘the ranks’, lose their sense of reality about what does and does to matter to people. The full results from Kovach’s study are shown here. Managers and Developers should note the importance of ‘interesting work’; ‘full appreciation of work done’ and a ‘feeling of being in on things’.

Supervisor rankings

Employee’s rankings

1.        Good wages

2.        Job security

3.        Promotion and growth

4.        Good working conditions

5.        Interesting work

6.        Personal loyalty to employees

7.        Tactful discipline

8.        Full appreciation of work done

9.        Sympathetic help with personal problems

10.     Feeling of being in on things.

1.        Interesting work

2.        Full appreciation of work done

3.        Feelings of being in on things

4.        Job security

5.        Good pay

6.        Promotion and growth

7.        Good working conditions

8.        Personal loyalty to employees

9.        Tactful discipline

10.     Sympathetic help with personal problems.

Theories of Motivation

Research breaks motivation theory into two broad areas:

Findings from a Families and Work Institute study show some important outcomes for employee’s productivity and well-being that pull together the theories:

 “The quality of workers’ jobs and the supportiveness of their workplaces are the most powerful predictors of productivity—job satisfaction, commitment to their employers, and retention. Job and workplace characteristics are far more important predictors than pay and benefits, which are generally competitive with the marketplace.”

Ten Tips for Effective Motivation

  1. Circumstances change and as they do so people change their minds about what they want. Make sure you know your people and where they are at in their lives.

  2. Pay attention to employee's real needs and provides reasons for improving their performance that meet these. Then ensure that employees believe that their efforts will produce needs satisfaction through transparent and fair reward policies. Provide both intrinsic and extrinsic rewards.

  3. Development will generally be valued in its own right as a source of employee motivation. Provide development opportunities for all, not just the high flyers.

  4. Goals are what an individual is aiming to achieve from their work effort. They motivate by, focusing attention; directing attention; increasing desired behaviours. Encourage action plans to formulate steps to achieve the goal. Set clear, specific, challenging goals and provide regular feedback on achievement for employees to see their progress.

  5. Participative goals, imposed goals and self-set goals are equally effective. Choose how to set the goals based on skills and knowledge of the employee. The important matter is developing employees’ commitment to the goal  - spend time with them. Train everyone in goal setting.

  6. A sense of achievement motivates employees. Set tasks that provide specific, short term goals so that employees constantly associate effort with success. Talk goals rather than tasks.

  7. Give employees clear roles and attach specific behavioural competences to each so that that employee’s effort is geared toward behaviours that will improve their work performance.

  8. Show that excellent performance on the job makes a difference by linking positive rewards to good performance and linking negative outcomes to poor performance. Make sure that managers use rewards consistently throughout the organization.

  9. Employee’s perceptions about how they are treated are important. If they feel that people are rewarded arbitrarily they will withhold their effort. Ensure that employees feel they are treated equally by training managers to observe competence based behaviour fairly and administer reward accordingly

  10. Ensure that development is directly and identifiably relevant to the business’s goals and employees/employees’ own jobs, to make the link in employee’s minds between performance effort and personal business success.


Please do let us know by e-mail, ‘phone or fax if there are any areas which you would  like covering in one of our issues of Tips and Tools, and we’ll do our best to accommodate your request.

This issue of Tips and Tools has been written by Clare Forrest, a Key Associate of DBA.