We are facing an unprecedented crisis in workplace motivation.  Only the businesses that are quick to learn and adapt will survive and thrive in the current economic climate.  Survey after survey is showing that the majority of people are disengaged at work and are delivering well below their best efforts.  But we now have an opportunity to use a more creative management approach – by utilising below conscious motivation patterns.   

Attached to control

Business is surprisingly slow when it comes to adopting new management thinking because we have a very strong attachment to maintaining control.  The uncertainty created by giving others autonomy is unbearable for most of us, we simply can’t handle the stress of it.  But if you don’t give autonomy and more meaning to their work, the work becomes a chore and they quickly become resentful of it.  This leads to complaining and finding fault with it rather than seeking to improve it.

The research Rodger Bailey did on motivation in the workplace, discovered a number of patterns that influence behaviour at a below conscious level.   In the category called ‘Reason’ he discovered that 40% of the working population need a clear reason for doing something or they will not be motivated to do it, they need to know Why it needs to be done.  These people have an ‘Options’ pattern.  They are stimulated by the reason behind doing things and are motivated to explore a number of alternative ways to achieve them.

Motivated by what’s possible

For example, people with this ‘options’ pattern in the context of cooking will find it difficult to follow recipes.  They are likely to look at the ingredients as a list of possible combinations of flavours for the dish and think about what will make it ‘interesting’ or ‘adventurous’ or perhaps ‘safe’ or ‘familiar’, depending on who they are cooking for or how much time they have.  The recipe method instructions are only ‘a way of doing it’ and they may well want to explore other ways.  While it can be creative, one of the drawbacks of the options pattern is that it makes decisions difficult because choosing one option means shutting down other possibilities (that may be even better!).  I can remember when I was a kid I would plan to bake something new and explore my mother’s cookery books looking at all the different options for so long that time would run out.     

Motivated by knowing the right way

At the other end of the scale of the Reason category is the pattern called ‘Procedures’.  Here Bailey found another 40% of the population who have to know the steps in order to be motivated.  They need to know How it should be done the right way. Without a clear procedure they get frustrated, demotivated and they grind to a halt.

For example, when I was a young chef back in the early 1980s a new Sous chef started and he was very enthusiastic about getting everyone involved in developing menu ideas.  In his first week he asked me to compile a number of dishes for the next menu and I got stuck because I didn’t really know where to start.  What sort of dishes was he looking for? What level of food cost or complexity did he want?  Should they be innovative or in line with the current menu?  The following week he demanded my ideas and I was still thinking about it and wondering where and how to start.  He got exasperated and said ‘You’re useless!” because he had made huge assumptions that I knew the things that he already took for granted.  He never asked me for any ideas again because he didn’t realised that I had never had to do that before and needed a few initial steps and suggestions to get me started.

Effective Learning

Learning is a very specific context and there are some default patterns at play at different stages of development.  If you understand them you can assist people to rapidly acquire – and even more importantly – apply new skills by showing them the steps to take and then help them to develop their thinking so they naturally want to explore how to improve and develop even better ways of completing the task.  This means you will be encouraging your people to continuously improve and adapt.  If this becomes a habit then your business will have the flexibility to survive and thrive, even in very challenging trading conditions.

However, many managers don’t appreciate the specific stages of development or Proficiency Milestones in skill development (see my blog How proficient are your people?).  They often either start at the wrong point or skim over a stage far too quickly and lose their people.  The process of learning can be defined as progressing from a ‘procedural’ phase where you learn the basic steps, into an ‘options’ phase where you discover variations.  Then there is a shift into generating ideas (options) and developing the specific steps or instructions (procedures) for others to follow.

For example, if I’m showing you how to make a French Onion Soup I will need to start by showing you how to thinly slice the onions in a particular way (along the grain of the onion not against it), how to cook the onions in butter (not oil) over a moderate heat that becomes more gentle over a very long time, taking care not to burn them while they caramelise to a rich brown colour, before adding the stock.  If you don’t follow these steps you will never get the classic flavour of traditional French Onion Soup.  It is very simple but you need to follow these specific steps (sadly very few restaurants seem able to do this!).  

However, once you know the basic steps you can be creative and add a little garlic with the onions or a splash of white wine once the onions are caramelised but before the stock is added.  These options are all a matter of taste but you will never get a proper French Onion Soup flavour if you don’t get the initial procedure right.

Then once you know the basics I can show you how to make a variety of soups like broths, purees, crèmes, veloutés and even consommés.  Once you have experienced and developed skills with the differences and similarities with these soups I can begin to ask you for some of your own ideas about creative variations on specific themes or even more radical combinations of ingredients and techniques.

Finally, I can ask you to develop a soup menu for a specific function and be confident that you could not only make the soup to a very high standard but write the recipe so others could make it consistently, as well as instructing others how to make the other basic soups.  

Following a natural progression

In effective learning, success in each phase is dependent on a level of proficiency in the preceding phase and yet most managers forget that they went through this progression themselves at some stage.  They make assumptions and neglect the initial phases resulting in frustration and de-motivation all around.

As an effective manager you need to be able to identify what phase your people are in with learning a specific task, skill or job.  If you don’t give them the right type of encouragement to think about what they are doing in the right way they will flounder and become demotivated.  This can lead you to believing they are useless and everything becomes an unfortunate self fulfilling prophecy.

The scary thing is that, as mentioned in previous articles, this happens with senior managers and directors as frequently as with more junior staff. 

Adapting your approach

As a wise manager who understands this, you can assess your people and what stage they are at with a given task.  They may be perfectly able to generate ideas and procedures for others to follow with some tasks but need very clear instruction on others. 

Making assumptions is an easy trap to fall into.  Be alert and observant.  People, especially those in more senior positions, are often reluctant to admit that they are still at an early stage and they can lead you into thinking that they are more competent than they are.  In fact some may even be totally unaware that they are incompetent.  If you are operating at a very high level of proficiency you may be unaware of all the things you take for granted about the task and forget to mention them.

Once you consider the motivation patterns above, in conjunction with the Proficiency Scale, it becomes very clear how to elegantly encourage your people to grow and develop more rapidly.  The more rapidly your people learn the more successful your business will become.

The Options and Procedures motivation patterns explained above are only two of the four patterns in the Motivation Matrix, a powerful management model that will help you diagnose and apply the most appropriate style to help your people grow.

If you have any questions or comments about any of the above please contact Amanda on [email protected].

Remember . . . Stay Curious!

With best regards

David Klaasen 

To find out how to get more information about the proficiency scale and the motivation matrix go to: http://www.inspiredworkingonline.com/advanced-motivation-skills/

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