My old English grandmother used to say “There’s nowt funnier than folk!” and that is so true. It doesn’t matter what we do or where or how we do it, eventually we all come across some very funny folk.

The problem of motivating our staff has always had a high priority in business; indeed there are courses on it, and qualifications for it and Human Resources to manage it. But how many of us really understand it?

When times are tough we need to take stock of our organisation to make sure that we are using all our assets wisely; and one of the major assets of any organisation is the people within it. Unfortunately, in the real hurly burly of surviving in a recession it can be the one factor that is overlooked.

I have been interested in the motivation of people since my army days; it has a unique importance in military circles. Because power is distributed by status, not necessarily by merit, instinctive obedience is expected and failure is punished.

While the reasons for this are obvious (and if it is not to you, just image the problems if a patrol triggers an ambush and the soldiers want to hold a meeting to decide on the proper outcome of the situation before taking action!) In certain situations instinctive obedience saves lives.

However it is still true that a better quality of outcome is always the result of willing participation.

In business today there would be few places where instinctive obedience brings the desired results. We have moved on from the old “Command and Control” strictly hierarchal type of leadership – and many leaders now know that to get the best out of their staff they need to co-opt their willing participation in the organisation’s progress.

To do that we need to understand that “there’s nowt funnier than folk” – which means that not everyone is motivated by the same things. Let’s have a look at some of the widely held misconceptions about what motivates our ‘folk’.

1. That all folk are basically motivated by the same thing.
2. That all folk will respond in the same way to the same motivational lever.
3. That all folk will respond to the same motivational factor in the same way.
4. That once we have identified a person’s motivational factor it will continue the same.
5. That motivational factors are unique and distinct and do not overlap.
6. That people know precisely what motivates them and will respond accordingly.

The problem with the above list is that there is a small element of truth in each statement; enough for many books on Motivation to get away with the “If you do this you will always get that response” argument.

Even such generally held principles like Maslow’s “Hierarchy of Human Needs” are relative in respects of individual ‘folk’. What these principles achieve is an understanding of what the basic needs of all humans are likely to be. Each one is specific though to the circumstances and conditions of those ‘funny folk” But as times change and circumstances alter, the things that motivated us in the past may not be the same motivational forces of the future. And our ideas of what constitute a motivational absolute will also change. If we just look at the very simplest of Maslow’s needs we may be able to see that in action today.

The first level is deemed to be the basic needs for life – the things that no person can live without. These are the animal or survival needs. Satisfying thirst and hunger, keeping warm or cool are the very simple needs that impact on our survival. Without food or drink we will perish. And without the means to provide them we will perish. If we are too cold or even too warm we can cease to function effectively. – and if we cannot provide the means to change our situation we will suffer.

Because this is the basic instinct it has often been thought that it is the easiest motivational factor to provide – and the easiest leadership lever to apply. “Do what I say or get fired” was once believed to be the simplest tool of a leader. Offering better wages, tempting people to buy into the organisation’s culture by means of extra benefits was often seen as great motivational tools.

If folk are funny, then generation differences are absolutely hilarious! Certainly with Gen Y and to a certain extent Gen X, money has never been an overwhelming factor up until now. Because with changing times comes changing attitudes and I am not certain how the recession will impact on this. Within Australian society there are many checks and balances that attempt to ensure that no-one is left entirely without the basics for human survival. In the worsening economic climate it may become more and more difficult to provide this level of support; but at the moment the political will is still present to try and ensure that this is so.

What cannot be forecast is the future outcome, and in particular the impact that economic uncertainty has on those that have placed little or no motivational value on financial security up until now. Being highly mobile in the workplace Gen Y may have a particular problem maintaining that mobility in a shrinking market. Jobs may not be so easy to find and people may find that they may have to sacrifice independence of attitude for security of tenure.

I am not saying that this will be so, I am merely pointing out that global circumstances may have an impact of the way we motivate our staff in the future. We may have to look at other factors than the ones we are presently using – we may have to go back to basics. People themselves may find other motivational factors from the ones presently in place. Different questions may arise that lead to different answers and responses.

We live in interesting times – but one factor remains certain “There’s nowt funnier than folk.”

Michele @ Trischel

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