Harmonizing your workplace: Play to each employee’s unique tune

If you want to guarantee the motivation of your employees, you need to play to their own tune, argues Mark Murphy

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Jul 5, 2023

Imagine – if you will – your team comprises an orchestra. Do this and it is quite easy to see that each member has a different instrument; each producing unique sounds.

In many ways, this simple simile represents both the wonder and challenge of employee motivation.

For the mistake made by too many companies is that they try to conduct this diverse symphony with a one-size-fits-all baton.

In this case, companies and their leaders assume that the same strategies and tactics will work for everyone.

But just like a cello produces a very different sound to a trumpet, your employees are also motivated by very different factors. For instance:

  • Some employees are motivated by achievement, striving for excellence, or a personal best.
  • Some are stimulated by power or affiliation.
  • Others are driven by security or even adventure.

But, while each of these motivators do indeed sound quite different, put together in the right way, and they can make beautiful music – just as long as leaders recognize and appreciate the differences.

While there are more than a dozen different instruments in a professional orchestra, the corporate world is mercifully a bit more parsimonious.

From the test, What Motivates You?, we know there are five primary work motivations – see below.

Know people’s motivations (and why they might cause issues)

But knowing the five motivators alone isn’t enough. HRDs have got to recognize that some of the systems and approaches in our workplaces might be tolerated by some employees but opposed by others.

So let’s look at each motivation, and situations that might be problematic for each:

1) Achievement Motivation

What is it? Folks burning with achievement motivation race with themselves, sprinting towards new personal bests. Their eyes aren’t just on the trophy but on the steep mountain that leads to it. Once they’ve reached a peak, don’t expect them to rest too long before they set their sights on an even higher one.

Why it might be a problem: A few years ago, some companies moved away from scored performance reviews, preferring coaching, admonitions, and positive reinforcement. The problem is that those with an achievement drive actually enjoy scores and metrics, and removing their de facto scorecard is a fast way to annoy them.

2) Power Motivation

What is it? This motivation is not about ruling the world; it’s about shaping their sphere of influence. They’ve got a penchant for being at the helm, making decisions that ripple through others’ lives. They’re not on a power trip; they’re on a journey to gain respect.

Why it might be a problem: A lack of autonomy or decision-making freedom could be troubling for power-motivated individuals. They value their ability to make influential decisions and direct others, so being overly controlled or restricted could make them feel undervalued and demotivated.

3) Affiliation Motivation

What is it? Connection drives those with an affiliation motivation; they crave harmonious relationships and acceptance. These social butterflies find their wings in roles filled with interaction and teamwork. They balance work and camaraderie, blending the two into a motivating mix.

Why it might be a problem: Setting up isolated work environments or highly competitive situations where teamwork isn’t fostered could be a poor strategy for affiliation-motivated people. They are motivated by collaboration and social interactions, so they might feel alienated and less productive in such an environment.

4) Security Motivation:

What is it? Security-motivated individuals desire consistency – a rhythm that doesn’t miss a beat. Their motivation lies in the steady ebb and flow of work and pay, and the comforting hum of familiarity. They prefer the well-trodden path, a testament to their loyalty and aversion to sudden, disruptive changes.

Why it might be a problem: Frequently changing company policies, role expectations, or job structures can be very unsettling for security-motivated individuals. They value predictability and stability in their work, and sudden or frequent changes could cause them a great deal of stress and demotivation.

5) Adventure Motivation:

What is it? Adventure-motivated people don’t just embrace change; they chase it. They live for the thrill of unpredictability, the adrenaline of risk, and the charm of uncertainty. For them, failure isn’t a stumbling block but a chance to try again. And they’re known to hop from one challenge to another when they feel their current role is all tapped out.

 Why it might be a problem: Assigning routine, monotonous tasks with no opportunity for creativity or innovation could be detrimental to adventure-motivated individuals. They thrive on change and challenges, so a stagnant work environment with little variation or opportunity for exploration would likely leave them feeling bored and unmotivated.

So what can we conclude from this?

To me, it’s clear. Understanding and leveraging the diverse motivators of your people is key to leading a harmonious corporate symphony.

HR just needs to accept that the same approach won’t resonate equally with everyone.

So, pay attention to the uniqueness of your achievement, power, affiliation, security, and adventure employees.

And the next time you implement any kind of change or engagement strategy, be mindful of the potential pitfalls for each motivator.

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