A Theory of Motivation and Process Improvement

“Managers do not motivate employees by giving them higher wages, more benefits, or new status symbols. Rather, employees are motivated by their own inherent need to succeed at a challenging task. The manager’s job, then is not to motivate people to get them to achieve; instead, the manager should provide opportunities for people to achieve, so they will become motivated.” Frederick Herzberg.

So what does this theory have to do with process improvement? When done properly, motivation is a core component to process improvement, total quality, 6 Sigma, lean, or whatever other description one uses to express this philosophy that according to W. Edwards Deming causes 85% to 90% of an organization’s problems. It has been proven time and time again that “bad processes will always squash good people.”

Typically employees do not go to work with the preconceived attitude of, “I can’t wait to get to work to see what I can screw up today.” Most employees are committed to doing a good job and providing results. Very often, however, when management does not see the desired or forecasted outcomes, they begin the search for the bad apples. “Who caused this to happen, rather than what caused this to happen?”

It is our experience that the “what caused this to happen” i.e. a bad process, is more often the actual cause of bad outcomes rather than “who caused it to happen?”. “What caused this to happen” is typically a defective or ineffective process. In the classic sense a process is the series of interrelated steps it takes to complete a task, and this applies to both business and manufacturing processes. Management designs the majority of a company’s processes and employees are instructed and trained to follow them – good or bad. If the process is good then the outcomes are good. However, if there is waste and variation built into the process the outcomes will neither be consistent nor predictable. This lack of predictability causes frustration at all levels within an organization but the frustrations are often magnified at the employee level, because they live within the processes daily. As such, employees know there is a better way to do things, but management doesn’t allow or encourage them to find it. Even if permission and encouragement is given, it is important that it be done correctly. Without the proper understanding and knowledge of process improvement tools to guide the discussions, greater frustration is created during the analysis, the decision process and the improvement phases.

A more effective approach is to provide everyone with the training necessary to best understand and utilize proven process improvement tools and to create a structure to allow employees to find and eliminate variation and/or waste in an existing process. Giving employees this opportunity is one way to operationalize Frederick Herzberg’s above definition of motivation. Highly motivated employees who have been given the opportunity to be involved in process improvement will generate accelerated results for the organization allowing them to run circles around their competition. Additionally, the results of process improvement when identified and implemented by the employees who are actually doing the work achieve quick, bottom-line economic gains, greater employee loyalty with higher moral, and more satisfied customers who will be loyal to your products or services.

Tammy A.S. Kohl is President of Resource Associates Corporation. For over 30 years, RAC has specialized in business and management consulting, leadership development, executive coaching and youth leadership. For more information visit http://www.resourceassociatescorp.com. or contact RAC directly at 800.799.6227.

Decision theory

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Decision theory

Decision theory

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