The Zombies Ate My Brains

Rescuing what might remain of the grey matter.


First things first. Thanks to Bupe Rose for the idea for this post!  She was compelled to comment on one of my blog entries regarding the RSA – Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts.  The video you see here was my introduction to the RSA.

Now, to the topic at hand.  Motivation.  This piece was written for my “Effective Supervision” course, but the ideas can most certainly be applied to creative endeavours like writing blogs.

Motivation can be defined as an individual’s willingness to do some action that will satisfy some unfulfilled need for the individual. These needs evolve in a methodical way as an employee matures on the job. These are:

• Safety and Security
• Growth
• Relatedness

Needs Evolve and Remain Dynamic
An employee will want job security to meet his financial needs. In order to grow, he will want more responsibility, autonomy, and to feel a sense of purpose. He will also want to feel important in the eyes of his colleagues and supervisor; these needs are met by rewards and recognition.

However, life happens, and needs may change. Perhaps an illness or other event may preoccupy a worker and her performance suffers. Challenging work may no longer be welcomed as she hasn’t the energy to devote to the task.

One Size does NOT Fit All
A supervisor will want to determine where each worker is along the “evolutionary” path of needs and wants. The next challenge lies in figuring out what “scratches the itch” for each individual. It is crucial for the boss to understand that one size does NOT fit all. There are multitudes of personality types that need consideration: extrovert, introvert, intuitive, analytical, to name only a very few.

motivation pizzaThe image here illustrates a key point. To achieve sustainable motivation, all elements must be in place so that an employee is driven from within. This means tailoring and customizing tasks and rewards to meet each of the worker’s needs.

If an employee’s work leads to personal satisfaction, then he will more likely be motivated to continue his current level of performance, or better. The following factors can lead to job satisfaction, and therefore motivation.

• Challenging work
• Feelings of personal accomplishment
• Recognition for achievement
• Achievement of increasing responsibility
• A sense of individual importance to the organization
• Access to information
• Involvement in decision making

You will note that money is not on the list. As Dan Pink reports in his video, once all concerns are met as regard financial compensation, it becomes a “non-issue” and is “taken off the table.” Now the focus is to engage the employee at his work. The goal here is for the employee to achieve mastery, autonomy, and a sense of purpose. This can be supported by training and mentoring, recognition and reward, and frequent performance reviews, either casual or formal.

Speaking of Feedback
Everyone wants to know how they are doing on the job. Not only for the recognition, but to make sure that their performance meets expectations. There is not much worse than finding out about problems on the day of the annual personnel review. Both employee and supervisor bear a responsibility to ensure the worker is aware of their performance. The ultimate responsibility, though, lies with the supervisor.

The easy kind of feedback is giving recognition for a job well done. The more difficult is the penalty when performance is poor or undesirable. Either way, to be effective feedback must be personal, meaningful, and timely. This is stuff of basic behavior modification science and reinforcement theories: reward or recognize desirable behavior, and penalize undesirable behavior.

A Supervisor’s Guide to Motivating Workers

• Recognize individual differences – as discussed above, each person brings a unique set of traits, needs, and skills to the job.
• Match people to jobs, modify jobs – provided training, coaching, mentoring as required to continually support a worker; if a job needs to be modified to accommodate the needs or style of the worker, make it so.
• Set challenging goals – this can energize and rally what may have become a dull or routine task; goals encourage persistence and new ways of applying knowledge or knowledge discovery. When setting goals, be specific about what is to be done; i.e. in measureable terms. Include the employee’s input.
• Encourage participation – brainstorming, decision making; be open to ideas
• Rewards – make them personal but appropriate. Do not award undesirable behavior.
• Design motivating jobs – combine tasks to increase variety and volume of work. Create natural work units, teams of people that will give workers a sense of ownership and pride. Allow workers to have authority over how work is accomplished. Keep lines of communication open.
• Don’t ignore money.  It’s often why people are working in the first place.

dilbert challenge

“Guide” is the key word in the title above. While researching this piece, all statements pertaining on how to motivate are qualified by the word “maybe”. There are no magic formulas, and efforts do not bear results “overnight.” It sounds obvious, but perhaps needs to be underscored: since the most effective form of motivation comes from within each individual employee, the supervisor is limited to what he can influence outside of the employee. I suppose the old adage applies: “you can bring a horse to water…” It is the supervisor’s job to provide the resources and the proper environment so that a worker can thrive.


Categories: Blog Blog Blog, Continuing Education, Work, work, work

Tags: , , , , ,

3 replies

  1. Well done!



  1. Which came first: the rubber chicken, or…? | The Zombies Ate My Brains

Your thoughts?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s