Why Motivating Employees Doesn't Work

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Motivating employees is fruitless. Yet, the level of performance in your company directly relates to its ability to tap the potential of your entire team. How then do you bring the best out of them? Easy: Set a boundary, and get out of the way. A funny thing happens when you do that, as explained in Douglas McGregor's classic The Human Side of Enterprise. According to him, two theories about human behaviors exist:

1. Theory X: They hate work, and will avoid it whenever they can.

The first one labeled Theory X, states that because humans loathe work, they must be controlled and directed to do it. The average person hates responsibility, and would prefer your direction in all situations. If you don't threaten them with punishment, you won't get great results. The authoritative approach stands as the most popular management technique, and it's also wrong. Humans need motivations beyond financial rewards.

2. Theory Y: They love work, and relate it to play.

What's right then? Theory Y states that humans desire work. They not only accept but actively seek responsibilities. When given a clear set of objectives they believe in, they'll display self-initiative, and an uncanny determination to do whatever it takes to achieve them. They loathe punishment, and respond only to rewards. If given the right environment, they'll display creativity, ingenuity, and imagination.

At the deeper level, people need a feeling of self-actualization.

This goes beyond any financial rewards, and it's a reason why motivating employees is useless. As Abraham Maslow states, an artist must paint, a poet must write, and a composer must make music. At the top of people's needs, they must make the most of their unique abilities. When you give employees freedom within well-defined objectives, you'll tap their human potential and achieve remarkable results.

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Posted on February 21

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