The challenge called 'Human Being'
While my previous articles have mainly focused on the reorganization strategy in order to increase efficiency in manufacturing businesses, the present article will concentrate on the motivation strategy. To really achieve the desired results, both strategies are needed as they complement each other. While it is true that processes must be clear, straightforward and lean and tools need to be appropriate and adequate, the best and smoothest layout with the most sophisticated technical tools will not yield the expected results if the workers using them are not motivated and engaged.
The motivation strategy has two main components
a) Investing in labor skills, knowledge and competence through planned training and education
b) Improving work attitude, motivation and psychological ownership through a participative management approach
Investing in labor skills, knowledge and competence through planned training and education is somehow self-explaining. One often used tool for this objective is the Skill Matrix. Examples and explanations on how to set-up and apply Skill Matrices can easily be found in the internet. I therefore won’t explain this part in detail especially as most HR Managers are probably somehow familiar with it.
The twin cycle of motivation and benefit includes both; the reorganization strategy in order to increase efficiency and productivity, and the motivation strategy in order to improve work attitude, motivation and psychological ownership.
Improving work attitude, motivation and psychological ownership through a participative management approach is a bit less straight forward and leaves plenty of room for individual adaptation. Allow me to start with two perception-pitfalls I have seen in practice. The first pitfall is when Management perceives workers and employees as an expense rather than as an investment. Interestingly, machines that will do exactly the same thing 10 years from now that they do today are considered to be an investment, while workers and employees who will accumulate experience and knowledge over the 10 years and in 10 years from now will know more and be able to do more than they do today are considered to be an expense. The problem is that a manager or business owner being trapped in this pitfall will find it difficult to invest time, efforts and cash into either or both of the above mentioned two main components of the motivation strategy which is similar to closing the door to improvement upfront. The second pitfall unveils itself when you hear yourself or others making statements similar to “my people are so lazy, disengaged, uninterested, they don’t care” etc. For a manager with this perception of his people, no matter whether it reflects reality or not, it will be difficult to believe in the possibility of change and therefore the door to improvement again remains closed. A devil’s advocate would eventually ask “why did you hire these people in a first place?” and the answer could be because at startup they seemed to be knowledgeable, capable, responsible and interested. So what happened?
A European research found that people, when starting a new job in a new company are naturally motivated. Therefore the challenge for the new employer is not really how to motivate the people, but rather how not to de-motivate them or how to keep that natural motivation alive over time. Therefore, if you are tired of pondering about ways to further motivate your workers and staff, you may want to try this other way – identify motivation-killers and kill them, unless of course, they come in the shape of leaders, supervisors, managers or any other persons. In that case removing or re-training them might be the safer option. Here some examples of motivation-killers that may have sneaked into an organization over time.
Nonexistent, unfair, or unfairly applied rules and regulations. If you really want to know where in your company you have issues in this segment of motivation killers, then make a simple anonymous survey among your staff and workers asking them to list the three rules or regulations they perceive to be most demotivating and unfair or unfairly applied, also in what areas they would like guiding rules to be set up in order to bring about fairness and equality. Don’t be surprised if you get surprising results. An actual example of potential unfairness is right on your doorstep. When the minimum wage rises from 215 Baht/day to 300 Baht/day (Bangkok), it could be tempting for a company to just increase the wage of whoever earned less than 300 Baht/day without touching on the wages of those who already had a rate of 300 Baht or more, maybe due to seniority or long time employment with the company. So if a worker today makes 320 Baht per day due to his experience and long term employment, then this benefit of experience and loyalty would vanish the day an inexperienced newcomer earns 300 Baht/day at startup while he or she still gets paid his/her old rate of 320 Baht. Whether management agrees or not, the experienced worker will consider it unfair, be demotivated and eventually leave the company; because 300 Baht/day he/she can get anywhere now. I may not make myself very popular among managers, but the rule of fairness would ask to increase every workers daily wage by 85 Baht.
Lack of transparency. The less transparent rules, decisions, awards and remunerations are the more gossip and rumors there will be. Those are hardly ever positive and most often not even true – but very persistent and not motivating at all. If you want to know whether your company has, or would have, a problem with transparency do the following: imagine (only imagine, don’t do it unless you feel very sure) printing a name list with all employees of the company from the CEO to the maid, indicating everyone’s salary and display it on the company’s information board. Would you be able to justify every employee’s earnings with facts and figures based on educational degrees, years of experience, special abilities, contributions etc.? If yes, you have a good and fair system in place. Imagine you would call a company-wide meeting at the beginning of the year and disclose, and clearly explain, the company’s annual financial results to your workforce. While this might not be a very familiar approach, it actually would boost psychological ownership and for sure eliminate the need for speculation and rumors. I encourage you to do it.
Lack of leadership and strategy. The strategy and the leadership have to come from the top. To lead means to stand in the front and pull,
not in the back and push. Only by pulling you decide the direction. Pushing from behind will just get the people to scatter all over the place, get lost and inactive. Also beware of continuous instant changes of directions and procedures as those bring about boredom and finally indifference.
Don’t expect to get more than you give. I have seen many things go broken in factories and sometimes really wondered how that was possible. It often appeared that with just a bit of care from the workers or staff, it would not have happened. At the same time I have seen more than one factory where cars, motorcycles and bicycles of the workers are parked out there in the burning sun all day long or exposed to pouring rain depending on the season. These are often the most valuable assets of the workers or staff – but management seems not to care. How can you expect those workers whose assets are not taken care of to take care of your machines and equipment?
The above is just a short selection of possible de-motivators. The more de-motivators you can identify and eliminate the better. Of course, there are also motivators out there. The most important probably are praise and responsibility. Give as much as you can of both of them, but make sure it’s not fake.
Contrary to machines you own 24 hours a day, people have their own lives outside of their working hours and this is a very important fact with which I will end this article. A study from Wright and Cropanzano (2007) reveals that job satisfaction is not purely job related, but part of what they call Psychological Well Being (PWB). Psychological Well Being does not only comprise the satisfaction on the job, but also the happiness in the worker’s private life. Therefore, when trying to choose productive workers or staff the HR department should actually try to figure out whether the applicant has a high level of Psychological Well Being, because as per Wright and Cropanzano, job performance is highest when employees report high scores on both, PWB and job satisfaction. So, if I’m allowed to put it very casually: Choose happy people and keep them happy.
Written by: Niklaus Stucki
Bangkok, 26th March 2012
Published: The Nation, 7th May 2012