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North Central Business Journal News

MOTIVATION TECHNIQUES
(January 2001 issue)

by Sandra Kay Neal, Ph.D.

 Research on motivation has found three highly successful motivation techniques which apply to workers across industries.  The first is known as Goal Setting.  The second involves Charting.  The third is called Positive Reinforcement.  They work well alone, but are most effective when used together.

 Goal Setting research has demonstrated that workers given a specific, difficult numeric goal, which is more than most workers can achieve, will produce more than if they are given an easier goal which everyone could achieve or if they are told to “do your best”.  Telling workers to “do your best” results in the lowest amount of productivity.  Manager-set goals are as effective as worker-set goals, although managers who include their employees in the decision about the goal develop a more satisfied work crew, which has other benefits beyond productivity.

 A useful way to incorporate Goal Setting is for the manager to involve the employees in developing a goal which exceeds the average output of the unit.  Employees tend to assume they are above average, and a wise manager builds on this assumption, indicating that this group of employees is capable of producing beyond the normal output of their industry.  The manager can then state the productivity of the previous time frame (week/month/quarter) and ask the work group to arrive at a numeric goal for the next time frame.

 Charting can then be used to help workers notice visually how they are doing.  The goal can be placed at the top of the chart, with each week’s productivity by the group indicated in relationship to the goal.  It is best to use a group’s productivity.  This will encourage the employees to work harder together to achieve the goal, and will reduce the likelihood of the manager having to admonish slower workers to keep up – the other employees will do that.

 The improvement indicated on the Chart will by itself act as Positive Reinforcement for the group, strengthening the tendency to produce at a high level.  In addition, managers can verbally acknowledge to employees how pleased they are with the high quality of production.  Another way to utilize Positive Reinforcement is for the company to provide lunch on Friday if the week’s goal was achieved, or to let workers go an hour or so early on Friday afternoon with pay. 

 Charting can be equally effective without using Goal Setting.  A chicken-processing plant was having difficulty getting its workers to comply with safety regulations.  The manager started keeping a wall chart of the percentage of safety behaviors displayed during a randomly-picked half-hour period of a shift (the time was different each day).  Within one month, the workers had gone from less than 50% to more than 90% of safety behaviors.  Previously, the manager had spent an enormous amount of time reminding workers to follow safety regulations.  During the charting time, the manager said nothing about safety behavior, yet the safety behavior improved dramatically.  It actually took less time for the manager to keep track of the positive safety behaviors than it had taken when he focused on the lack of safety behaviors, and he was much less frustrated.

 An automotive parts factory used charting of productivity levels between shifts.  Both charts were prominently displayed, and workers quickly began competing with the other shift.  To ensure quality production, the managers subtracted waste from the productivity number, so that only quality products were counted.

 All three of these techniques shift the focus of managers from what employees are doing wrong to what they are doing right.  Not only does this improve productivity, but it also improves the climate of the relationship among the work group and between the employees and their supervisor.  It promotes a win-win experience for everyone, reducing stress and enhancing the company’s productivity. 

Sandra Kay Neal holds a Ph.D. in Industrial/Organizational Psychology and has 19 years experience helping organizations solve human resource issues.  Her company, Synergistic Organizational Solutions, specializes in aiding small businesses. Dr. Neal can be reached at sos_hr@localaccess.com.




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