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Creating a motivating climate

Organisations are more likely to instil 'want to' attitudes in people if they nurture three factors, namely 'I belong' feelings, 'can do' beliefs and an ' I'm responsible' or 'I'm allowed' mindset.

People are likely to adopt the values of others who help them meet their needs for belongingness and competence and autonomy. People need to be valued by others, surrounded by a cohesive peer group and given a sense of belonging and control, the stimulation of clear and challenging goals and recognition for whatever they achieve. 

A sense of connection with the organisation is more likely to develop a sense of loyalty to and identify with it. So efforts to promote social engagement are essential.  People need to know they count before they see any point in trying. The best motivators lead through their relationships with, rather than power over others. Current models of motivation tend to concentrate on cognitive processes, assuming that competence is the primary factor. Our social worlds however must also be included in any consideration of motivation.  Social goals are strong predictors of success and the promotion of socially responsive behaviour often results in higher performance. The social climate is a powerful motivator of all aspects of our behaviour.  

There needs to be clarity of pathways towards the goals that let people know what is expected of them. The very constraints of work make it satisfying!  Having to be at a given place, at a particular time - with deadlines for completed tasks, working towards a larger goal with others, in a routine way and in which everyone has a specified role. The requirements of the structure of work make it a source of well-being. Overcoming our resistance to tasks initially disliked give satisfaction that is hard to match. Ironically, jobs are actually easier to enjoy than free time, because they have built-in goals, rules, challenges and feedback, all of which encourage involvement in one's work. Free time, on the other hand is unstructured and requires greater effort to be shaped into something that can be enjoyed. In leisure the freedom to create our own goals and time limits often drifts into an open-ended activity where it is difficult to keep a sense of purpose. Hobbies which demand skill, habits that set goals and limits, personal interests help to make leisure what it is supposed to be - a chance for re-creation.

The climate needs to highlight the importance and usefulness of activities and set clear achievable, specific goals. Motivating activities challenge our present capacity, while permitting some control and provide a sense of competence in relevant goals. 'Can do' beliefs are promoted by tasks that are stretching but achievable rather than easy work or work that is too difficult. People become engaged when they get involved in their own creative sense, making, when pushed to understand by being required to wrestle with new concepts, explain their reasoning or defend their conclusions

Feedback is an essential ingredient to provide information that lets others know how they are doing. It is the motivation power-tool yet often the least well used. We are sometimes reluctant to praise for fear of making people big headed. This reflects a misunderstanding about the purpose of feedback - it is about giving information about progress to increase self-efficacy not about encouraging arrogance. Highly motivating people praise others' effort and how they tackle their work and so make colleagues feel responsible for success. They help people become aware of 'how' they are smart rather than how smart they are. They avoid loading their feedback with emotional approval or disapproval and downplay their evaluative role by letting people rate themselves as much as possible. 

It is worth considering why computers have proved so motivating to young people. They provide a competitive but private therefore low threat climate where engagement is unconditional. They allow people to be in control and less reliant on others. Stimulation is provided through small achievable targets. Most importantly they offer feedback that is consistent, objective and, unlike human feedback, non-judgemental.

Working climates can be categorised using four types of autonomy. They can be epitomised by an 'over-protective' climate, that in turn encourages restricted workers.  Others can have an 'autonomy-crushing' climate, resulting in no sense of autonomy. The more accountability is stressed over autonomy, the more managers will download pressure to colleagues through a command climate that emphasises control. Thirdly, an over-competitive 'prove yourself' atmosphere marks the 'exposing' climate where confusion and provocation contribute to the development of a distorted sense of autonomy. 

The 'autonomy supportive' climate is characterised by motivation to share power as much as possible. Management here is not about issuing orders and expecting blind obedience but communicating and negotiating in a confident manner. This requires tuning into other peoples' perspectives.

Copyright: Alan McLean, 2006

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