There are all sorts of theories about what motivates people. The two most popular are Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and Hertzberg’s Theory of Motivation.
Maslow (1954) believed that people fulfill needs from the lowest to the highest order in terms of physiological, safety, social, esteem, and self-actualization.
Herzberg (1959) understood that more specifically at work, there were five key motivators to job satisfaction: achievement, recognition, the work itself, responsibility, and advancement. Things like salary and working conditions were believed to not provide satisfaction, but could lead to job dissatisfaction.
An article in Harvard Business Review (January-February 2010) underscores Hertzberg’s belief that achievement is the greatest work satisfier of all, as the article states: “we now know what the top motivator of performance is…It’s progress.”
Bottom line is that most people generally want to work and be productive human beings: when we contribute positively to the world, we feel a purpose to life. Achievement and progress means that we somehow leave this world a little bit better than when we arrived, and the whole thing is not meaningless. The daily growing pains of life are not in vain—we are contributing to something greater—something that outlasts ourselves.
Recently, I read that only 45% of workers were satisfied with their jobs (based on finding from the Corporate Executive Board). Even in a horrible economy, people are not satisfied with a paycheck. They want to feel good about what they are doing and that they are doing something.
Something is getting in the way of people’s feeling of progress at work or their level of job satisfaction wouldn’t be the worst in decades.
The authors of the Harvard Business Review article state “the strongest advice we offer [to leaders] from this study…”scrupulously avoid impeding progress by changing goals autocratically, being indecisive or holding up resources.”
The point is that a leader is first and foremost an enabler for progress. If they are holding back their people, rather than helping them, we have dysfunctional leadership at its core.
So in simple terms—effective leaders must:
Progress and employee satisfaction will not be achieved with just one or two of the three: If the employees want to move forward on leadership vision, but they can’t get needed decisions to really execute, the vision is for all intensive purposes, dead on arrival. And even if employees have a vision and the needed decisions to operationalize it, but they can’t get the resources to really see it through, progress is slowed, stunted, or perhaps, not even possible at all.
Perhaps this is one reason for the high project failure rate in organizations that we’ve seen for years now resulting in cost overruns, missed project schedules, and requirements that go unmet.
Yes, workers will always seek job satisfaction, but its not just about more money, more benefits, more recognition, more advancement, like so many erroneously still believe. Rather, the Holy Grail to worker satisfaction is a leadership that knows how to let them really be productive.