How do you motivate people? In a Harvard Business Review classic article (titled “One more time: How do you motivate employees?”) Frederick Herzberg addresses this very issue. The essence of his explanation went something like this: Simple answer is you don’t. Actionable answer follows from the fact that people in your employ are already motivated. So all you have to do is find out what they are motivated to do and give them that to do.
In a recent New York Times interview Geoff Vuleta, C.E.O. of the consulting firm Fahrenheit 212, said “I try to uncover what people are really good at doing and then given them a hell of a lot of that to do.” The assumption that Vuleta is operating upon is people tend to like doing that which they are good at doing. While this is reasonable we should not dismiss the value of actually finding out what people find motivating to do; it may be something that they have a very keen interest in getting good at doing but are not yet really good at it. The point to remember is that you hire people not for what they can now do, but what they have the potential to do. If you don’t stretch people by leveraging their interests then you will unlikely actualize the potential that exists within the organization.
You do this by showing trust in those you hire; you do it by enabling them to do more of the important work. The people you hire want to do good work, otherwise why did you hire them! So don’t hire people and provide them mindless work or micro-manage them. Provide people responsible work and they will very likely respond in a like manner; that is, of course if you support them. Providing work that counts leads to the work being done responsibly.
Don’t throw the work down the hill and expect others to just do it. Quoting Vuleta, “They want to know two things. They want to know what they should be doing, and they want to know what they’re doing is important. And you must, therefore, set up an environment in which they totally trust that.” Responsible leaders give people meaningful work and provide the direction and support so that they know what to do and why it is important to do. This is not about delegating work it is about enabling potential through the work.