Eyes on the Prize

Motivation is often generally understood as “the set of reasons that determines one to engage in a particular behaviour”.

The word is often used in discussions centred on corporate performance as a precursor to the statement – “we need an incentive programme”. But the rush to employ an elaborate, ill-conceived incentive programme that will cure a corporate malady would be slowed if a comprehensive diagnosis of employee motivation has not been considered.

The art of motivation and engagement has its roots in theories developed by psychological experts dating back to 1943. In A Theory of Human Motivation, Abraham Maslow founded a theory, the “Hierarchy of Needs”, which to this day remains a valuable reference and model for psychological assessment and performance management.

Maslow’s theory centred on an individual’s set of needs and ranked them in order of importance. The needs are usually represented as a pyramid consisting of five levels.

The lower four layers of the pyramid are what Maslow called “deficiency needs”: physiological, safety and security, love and belonging, and esteem. He believed that a person must have these needs met first in order to move up the levels of higher need.

Eyes on the Prize

Maslow says that in order for us to function at optimum levels, we must first have our basic needs met, then we can seek a path of fulfilment and personal growth. An extreme example would be if an employee were stricken with an acute illness, he or she would concentrate their energies on getting better rather than focus on their performance in the workplace. 

A contemporary of Maslow, Frederick Herzberg, extended the thinking and came up with the theory that we have basic needs which he coined “hygiene needs”. Meeting these needs does not necessarily make us satisfied, it merely prevents us from becoming dissatisfied. There is a separate set of needs which, when resolved, do make us satisfied, however. These are called motivators.

Herzberg concentrated his studies on the business world and asked people about the instances when they felt good about their work. He discovered that the key determinants of job satisfaction were achievement, recognition, the nature of the work they were performing, responsibility and advancement.

He also found that the things that bugged employees and kept them from being satisfied were company policies and administration, overzealous supervisors, lousy salaries, strained relationships and poor working conditions. Sound familiar?

What he failed to say was “get those things right first and then see if you need an incentive programme”.

But, in many cases, more is required to achieve success within an organisation. While studies have found that attention to the basics and provision of a well-disciplined work environment will motivate most employees to a certain level and retain their services, other schools of thought believe that the high achievers will be motivated by different inducements.

In a sales environment, the organisation wants to maximise the successes of its high achievers. With the 80/20 rule coming into play, as history has long proven, 80 percent of sales will come from the efforts of 20 percent of the team in an unstimulated environment.

Organisations are often happy to reward the hardworking and gifted 20 percent, knowing they will always perform and deliver the goods, but fail to understand the needs of the other 80 percent.

In a cleverly designed incentive programme, which has been scientifically constructed, those in both categories will be rewarded. By motivating the 80 percent and shifting their productivity by say, 5 percent, demonstrable performance improvement can be measured.

In the case of the high achievers, if in response to an incentive or inducement their performance is increased by 10 percent, which is double the increase of the larger group, the net increase in that smaller group’s performance is paradoxically only half that of the 80 percent.

Ill-conceived programmes that offer elaborate high-end rewards such as swish travel for the employee and partner will benefit the high achievers, who will perform anyway. The remainder may see the programme as a disincentive in that they know they will probably never get to “see the world”, compliments of their boss.

Multi-tiered incentive programmes, which use a combination of travel, merchandise and others as motivators, spread the reward to a larger audience.

While the high achievers will still be rewarded with the premium level of reward in the programme (usually travel), achievers at lower levels will also share the spoils.

The provision of appropriate reward also achieves improvement and fertilises a field of further success. Once a participant within a programme is rewarded at a low level within the scale, he or she is buoyed to achieve more and celebrates his or her win, no matter how large or small.

Success on an individual level is amplified by an integrated team effort. If all members of the team are on side with a common course, the results can be outstanding.

According to Team Building Asia director David Simpson, his company’s specifically tailored programmes are innovative and effective mechanisms to unite teams that deliver a new perspective on the company, their roles and each other.

Delivered around the Asia-Pacific in English, Cantonese and Mandarin, programmes by Team Building Asia are designed to boost workplace cohesion and the spirit of teamwork, while delivering tangible skills.

Simon Tufrey, the motivation coach in Asia-Pacific for company Power2Motivate, believes motivation is the essence of corporate performance.

“Motivation in the workplace is more fundamental than ever. During these times of economic crisis, employees need to continue to deliver their best for the business.

“What we have found in our experience at Power2Motivate (in providing support to online reward and recognition programmes) is that employees who exhibit ‘mojo’ – that is ‘Motivation for 
the Job’ – deliver high levels of job performance for longer than employees who are demotivated.

“This is because motivation in the workplace context means high levels of employee engagement, passion, drive and feeling of being valued – all important factors to an ultimately happy worker,” he says.

In Tufrey’s comments, the link between motivation, performance and incentives is clearly demonstrated, echoing the findings of Abraham Maslow all those years ago.



Team Building Asia provides experiential-based learning activities to encourage high participation and interaction with fellow employees. 

Teams develop a fuller appreciation of teamwork through completing tasks and the responsibilities of influencing and motivating others.

With an enviable client list, predominately in the banking and finance sector, Team Building Asia’s record for effective teambuilding delivery is well proven.

According to David Simpson, director of training at Team Building Asia, their philosophy is simple. “If leaders, managers and individuals could do everything themselves, then they wouldn’t need a team. As individuals, we all have strengths and areas that need development and improvement. This is where teamwork has the most value as the strengths of all the players come together and create a great combined performance.” 

Simpson continues: “A good example is one of our experiential activities where delegates build a life-size Formula One car from flat sheets of cardboard. Then, they physically race it. A variety of skills are required and the team can assess their colleagues’ particular strengths. Some may be good at reading the plans to mark out and measure the cardboard.  Others might be good at cutting and assembling the various parts of the F1 car. Some individuals might be good at organising and delegating duties. Others might know how to drive like a pro.

“The beauty is that while one particular skill set will not get the task completed efficiently, the team skill will ensure the tasks are completed faster and more accurately. This whole process is extremely motivating and the sense of achievement is felt strongly by all team members. This reinforces the concept that teamwork and motivation are essentially dependent on each other. Of course, seeing the completed F1 cars being raced and the champagne-podium finish creates a long-lasting buzz and a real sense of teamwork and success, and fun, of course.”



Organic Motivation

Since 2003, ambitious teams of the super-fit have assembled in the wilderness of Tasmania’s unforgiving countryside to prove a point to themselves by participating in the Mark Webber Pure Tasmania Challenge. To participate requires motivation of the first order and to compete the physical challenge requires not only motivation but dedication, perspiration and sometimes exasperation.

In 2003, Australian Formula One driver Mark Webber staged the inaugural Mark Webber Challenge – a gruelling multi-sport adventure race which traversed the island state and washed the forests and mountains in a fine spray of competitors’ blood, sweat and tears. Eager competitors, in teams of two or four, rode mountain bikes, kayaked up and down fast flowing streams, ran heavily wooded forest trails and scaled brutal, craggy peaks.

One constant in the composition of the challenge is the absolute motivation required by each competitor.

Australian corporate giant Telstra, a commercial sponsor of the race, also submitted a team in the Van Diemen Cup section from within their ranks.

According to senior Telstra executive David Moffatt, who also competed in the race, participation is a vital tool for employee engagement and is just one example of how Telstra provides numerous opportunities for employees to not only express their physical prowess, but also participate in activities which benefit their own well-being and the community in general, thus, organically building a platform of motivation.

“Telstra’s attitude as an employer is to say: ‘If you value discipline, focus, time management and commitment to performance – all of these drivers that are important to your business career – and you demonstrate these in every aspect of your life, you will be supported,” he says from his Melbourne office.

Participants in exercises such as the Mark Webber Pure Tasmania Challenge are celebrated within Telstra in ways such as its intranet site where fellow employees can read about and meet their colleagues and join in on their successes.

“We’re not talking about professional athletes here, these are people we work with,” Moffatt explains.

 “With our employee value proposition,” he adds, “our goal is to provide a great job and great clarity around what that job is. It’s also to provide flexibility to be who you are as a leader in the community – as a mother, or a son and all those other personal relationships. The proposition is also about being respectful to what the employee brings to Telstra in terms of skills. Of course, it’s also about pay and conditions and the things that go with that.”

He elaborates: “If you create a work environment that enables people to be who they are – one which allows mums and dads to pick up the kids at three o’clock for instance, but one which still gets the work completed effectively, that’s about living an integrated life and leading by example. It’s about letting people deal with the swings and flows of life but to also get the job done. That provides motivation of a personal nature.”

These types of events reveal that people are making choices about how they prepare themselves physically – their wellness. They’re definitely investing in themselves in a physical sense in this process but they’re also investing in the core disciplines that the organisation values in the workplace as well – preparation, long-term planning, time management, teamwork and engagement.

“These demonstrate values over and above the core skill set required to do the job. It creates an organisation that sees itself differently to many others and the thinking starts at a leadership level,” he says.

By showing awareness to the basic needs of employees and by then allowing and fostering their participation in a community event which is personally rewarding and fun, Telstra achieved two levels of commitment where its employees are motivated by recognition and reward.


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