Motivate People – But How?

How do you Motivate People? This is an extract from an article in Harvard Business Review (HBR) by Frederick Herzberg – one of the most popular HBR articles of all time. It provides a really insightful look at all the things organizations do to motivate people without much success…

The surest way of getting someone to do something – is to deliver a kick in the pants—put bluntly, the KITA. But there is a danger that a manager might get kicked back in return, so companies usually resort to positive KITAs, ranging from fringe benefits to employee counseling. But while a KITA might produce some change in behavior, it doesn’t motivate people…


Motivation is like an internal generator. An employee with an internal generator needs no KITA.

“Motivating” with KITA

In lectures to industry on the problem, I have found that the audiences want quick and practical answers, so I will begin with a straightforward, practical formula for moving people.

What is the simplest, surest, and most direct way of getting someone to do something? Ask? But if the person responds that he or she does not want to do it, then the next option is to Tell the person. If they still do not respond or understand you, then an expert in communication methods has to be brought in to show you how to get through. Give the person a monetary incentive? Well, to set up and administer an incentive system is not easy. Show the person? This means a costly training program. We need a simple way.

Every audience contains the “direct action” manager who shouts, “Kick the person!” And this type of manager is right. The surest and least complex way of getting someone to do something is to administer a kick in the pants—to give what might be called the KITA.

There are various forms of KITA, and here are some of them:

Negative Physical KITA

This is the physical KITA and as we said this is not recommended as the employee may just kick you in return.

Negative Psychological KITA

“He took my rug away”.
“The boss is always avoiding me”.

You let the employee know you’re not happy through psychology. This has several advantages over negative physical KITA. First, the cruelty is not visible; the bleeding is internal and comes much later. Second, it reduces the possibility of physical backlash. Third, since the number of psychological pains that a person can feel is almost infinite, the possibilities of the KITA are increased many times. Fourth, the person administering the kick can pretend to be above it all and let the system accomplish the dirty work. Finally, if the employee does complain, he or she can always be accused of being paranoid; there is no tangible evidence.

Now, what does negative KITA accomplish? If I kick you in the rear (physically or psychologically), who is motivated? I am motivated; you move! Negative KITA does not lead to motivation, but to movement. So:

Positive KITA

Let us consider motivation. If I say to you, “Do this for me or the company, and in return I will give you a reward, an incentive, more status, a promotion, etc,” am I motivating you? The overwhelming opinion I receive from management people is, “Yes, this is motivation.”

I have a year-old dog. When it was a small puppy and I wanted it to move, I kicked it in the rear and it moved. Now that I have finished its obedience training, I hold up a dog biscuit when I want it to move. In this instance, who is motivated—I or the dog? The dog wants the biscuit, but it is I who want it to move. Again, I am the one who is motivated, and the dog is the one who moves. In this instance all I did was apply KITA frontally; I exerted a pull instead of a push. When industry wishes to use such positive KITAs, it has available an incredible number and variety of dog biscuits (incentives for humans) to wave in front of employees to get them to jump.

Myths About How to Motivate People

Why is KITA not motivation? If I kick my dog (from the front or the back), he will move. And when I want him to move again, what must I do? I must kick him again. Similarly, I can charge a person’s battery, and then recharge it, and recharge it again. But it is only when one has a generator of one’s own that we can talk about motivation. One then needs no outside stimulation. One wants to do it.

With this in mind, we can review some positive KITA personnel practices that were developed as attempts to instill “motivation”:

1. Reducing Time Spent at Work

This represents a marvelous way of motivating people to work—getting them off the job! We have reduced (formally and informally) the time spent on the job over the last 50 or 60 years until we are finally on the way to the “6 ½-day weekend.” The fact is that motivated people seek more hours of work, not fewer.

2. Spiraling Wages

Have these motivated people? Yes, to seek the next wage increase!

3. Fringe Benefits

The cost of fringe benefits is usually 25% of salary costs, and going up, but we still cry for motivation. These benefits are no longer rewards; they are rights.
When industry began to realize that their employees had insatiable appetites, it started to listen to the behavioral scientists who criticized management for not knowing how to deal with people. The next KITA easily followed.

4. Human Relations Training

More than 30 years of teaching and, in many instances, of practicing psychological approaches to handling people have resulted in costly human relations programs and, in the end, the same question: How do you motivate workers?

The failure of human relations training to produce motivation led to the conclusion that supervisors or managers themselves were not psychologically trained. So an advanced form of human relations KITA, sensitivity training, was unfolded.

5. Sensitivity Training

Do you really, really understand yourself? Do you really, really, really trust other people? Do you really, really, really, really cooperate? The failure of sensitivity training is now being explained, by those who have become opportunistic exploiters of the technique, as a failure to really (five times) conduct proper sensitivity training courses.

HR managers then concluded that the fault lay not in what they were doing, but in the employee’s failure to appreciate what they were doing. This opened up the field of communications, a new area positive KITA.

6. Communications

The professor of communications was invited to join the faculty of management training programs and help in making employees understand what management was doing for them. But no motivation resulted, and the obvious thought occurred that perhaps management was not hearing what the employees were saying. That led to the next KITA.

7. Two-Way Communication

Management ordered employee surveys, suggestion plans, and group participation programs. Then both management and employees were communicating and listening to each other more than ever, but without much improvement in motivation.

8. Job Participation
For example, if a man is tightening a lot of nuts on a car assembly line, tell him that he is working for a national cause. This was like providing a sense of achievement rather than a substantive achievement in the task. Real achievement, of course, requires a task that makes it possible.

9. Employee Counseling

Counseling was a means of letting the employees unburden themselves by talking to someone about their problems. But, alas, this too did not seem to have lessened the demand to find out how to motivate workers.

Question is how many of these positive KITA’s are you using in your organization and are you still surprised that motivation is still elusive?

 

 

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