Does Your Workplace Culture Motivate Employees to Succeed?

Gustavo Grodnitzky Employee Engagement, Organizational Effectiveness

At a recent public forum for business leaders, I was asked this question: “Do you think a workplace culture can really change what motivates someone?”

This questioner (whom I suspect had been “volunteered” to be there) had a heavy tone of doubt, disbelief and a bit of disgust thrown in for good measure. How did I answer? If you’ve heard me speak, you probably know: “When you change the context of human behavior, behavior change follows. The context in which your employees work is workplace culture. And when you change your culture, employees change their behavior.”

If you’ve had thoughts similar to my questioner’s, I would encourage you to read this Harvard Business Review article that offers some important research-based insights into the power of culture and motivation. In the article, the authors identify six motivation factors for people to work.

3 Motivators in High-Performance Workplace Cultures

When a workplace culture supports the following three factors, motivation and performance increase:

  1. Play. For people and other mammals, play is as instinctual as breathing. It fulfills our curiosity, allows us to test our abilities and creates opportunities for us to develop skills and solve problems. This doesn’t mean that we all need to bring foosball tables into our offices. Play happens when your people enjoy the core activities their work requires. They take pleasure in doing the work itself. Play requires a sense of trust so reasonable risks can be taken. If your people fear taking risks or don’t trust that the culture will allow them to learn through risk and failure, play becomes impossible.
  2. Purpose. How does your product or service change the world or change human experience in the world? How does the work your people are doing have an impact or people or society?
  3. Potential. Potential speaks to the possibility that the work you do today will enhance work you do in the future. Do your people have the opportunity to grow their skillsets in your organization? If so, they will experience potential in their work.

3 Factors That Decrease Employee Motivation

But when a workplace culture tries to motivate people through the following factors,  motivation and performance decrease:

  1. Emotional pressure. This speaks to trying to motivate others through fear, guilt or shame. This motivation has nothing to do with the work, and performance inevitably decreases.
  2. Economic pressure. This speaks to people working for financial incentives – as a reward or to avoid some loss. In these scenarios, people will work to fulfill their financial needs, but then performance declines precipitously.
  3. Inertia.This is the first time I have seen this term used in a discussion of culture, and I love it! It speaks to people doing work because, “This is what I’ve always done” or “This is the way we’ve always done it.” Inertia creates performance to the minimal acceptable standard and requires a tremendous amount of energy to overcome.

So does your workplace culture motivate employees with play, purpose and potential? Or does it fall back on emotional pressure, economic pressure and inertia? Here’s how you know, particularly during our current “war for talent,” it becomes obvious that:

  1. A-players are not found or recruited, they are made in the crucible of your culture.
  2. Culture remains your competitive advantage.

I’d love to hear your questions and comments.  If you would like to discuss this further, just drop me a note.

Keep cultivating your culture!