My old man told me his boss reckoned he needed only one thing to motivate employees: a four by two (a timber club). Fortunately, an intriguing theory suggests that we can achieve this without the four by two.
According to this theory, developed by Dr Simon Moss, all you have to do is give people a sense of purpose and meaning.
Called the Model of Sustained Strivings (MOSS – get it), this theory explains that all the positive changes we want to see in employees–such as increased motivation, open and creative thinking, improved decision-making, self-awareness and resilience–occur naturally when our jobs and lives are meaningful.
But how do you actually give someone meaning?
It’s more like four things you need to do…
Dr Moss suggests it might not actually be as simple as doing one thing. Instead, it is as simple as doing four things.
First, you need to create a stable and predictable workplace, providing a sense of control. Humans are instinctively cautious, closed-off, and unimaginative when their immediate environment is unpredictable. Think of how creative you would get if you were wondering around the jungle with a tiger lurking in the undergrowth!
In the workplace, creating clear, unambiguous expectations goes a long way to creating a stable workplace, for example when we clarify policies, procedures and rules.
The second determinant of meaning is working in a supportive and cooperative environment. Think about the last time you worked with people who didn’t really help you or possibly even undermined your efforts. When you are not supported, you tend to work just to survive not to improve.
We are also in this mindset when our workplace keeps changing and the future is uncertain. The third determinant of meaning implies that we want to have some continuity and consistency to know that what we are working on today will be valued in the future, otherwise it feels like a meaningless exercise.
Lastly, being allowed to be different and unique is essential to demonstrate our capability. This determinant of meaning boosts our self-esteem and motivates us to keep trying to improve.
Ok, so now you have the four things required to motivate and improve? Presumably, all you have to do is implement programs to address these four areas?
Unfortunately, according to Dr Moss, the research shows us that each determinant can directly contradict the other. So, capability impedes cooperation. Cooperation impedes consistency, and so on.
For example, while you are promoting ‘one culture’ and a unified team, you may also be undermining a person’s need to stand out and be different. Similarly, you tend to learn more and develop your unique capabilities in different, therefore uncertain, workplaces but these workplaces also make us feel insecure and undermine meaning.
Ok, maybe six things you need to do…
Fortunately, you can resolve these issues. All you have to do is six things (are you seeing a pattern here?).
How might you might reconcile the need for certainty and need to develop in novel and uncertain environments? Dr Moss suggests that when people feel stressed learning in novel environments, they could learn to associate these feelings with excitement in recognition of the opportunity to develop. By doing so, you can boost your capability and perceive the change as a challenge rather than something to fear.
To resolve the contradiction between feeling unique and unifying your teams, you could rotate the responsibilities of leaders. That is, you promote leadership on some tasks, allowing people to learn and develop but ensure they are subordinates on other tasks, to help encourage trust and cooperation.
But, to get all these things to work, you need to just do these 28 things…