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Academic Insight: What Motivates Your Employees

Shontarius D. Aikens

In the February 2020 issue of Fargo, INC!, I shared my perspectives on what managers and leaders can do to be intentional and purposeful when using technology within organizations. For those who have not read the original article, I’ve summarized the main points below:

If you have been reading the news lately, you have been hearing about The Great Resignation. And as business owners, perhaps you have direct experiences with this event. I’ve taken a keen interest in understanding this phenomenon, which involves reading various articles in popular business magazines and reading the academic literature on this topic. An article that I came across published in INC magazine written by Jessica Stillman (2022) caught my attention. In this article, the author points to new research that suggests 6 different types of workers in the workplace and how understanding the different types can help organizations respond to The Great Resignation. I highly recommend reading the resources at the end of this article in their entirety, but for now, I’ve summarized the definitions and descriptions of the 6 different archetypes below:

  • Operators: “find meaning and self-worth primarily outside of their jobs… they see work as a means to an end.”
  • Givers: “find meaning in work that directly improves the lives of others… least motivated by money.”
  • Artisans: “seek out work that fascinates or inspires them…motivated by the pursuit of mastery.”
  • Explorers: “value freedom and experiences…seek careers with a high degree of variety and excitement.”
  • Strivers: “have a strong desire to make something of themselves… they are forward planners who can be relatively risk-averse.”
  • Pioneers: “identify profoundly with their work…are the most risk-tolerant and future-oriented.”

It is common knowledge that workers are motivated by different things; therefore, a one-size-fits-all motivational approach will not suffice. The Stillman article is one of the first articles I have seen that reinforces that line of thinking while also providing concrete descriptions that managers could use when determining individual and companywide motivational approaches. For this month’s article, I’d like to provide some suggestions on how a manager could use this framework going forward. The suggestions will be posed in the form of questions.

Question 1: What type of workers are in your organization?

Think about a coach of a sports team. They have a good idea of the types of players they have–their strengths, weaknesses and their goals. Out of the 6 different archetypes, what is the makeup of your team and/or your direct reports? Think about each of your employees and try to determine which archetype(s) describes each of your employees best.

Question 2: Would your employees/direct reports confirm your assumptions?

While you (as a manager) have initial assumptions of the archetypes in your organization, what would your employees or direct reports say? Would they confirm your initial impressions? Why not ask them. In addition to any other self-evaluations or self-assessment initiatives conducted in your organization to help employees become more self-aware (e.g., CliftonStrengths, etc.), provide them with the 6 archetype descriptions and have them to self-identify which archetype(s) they resonate with. There are two benefits to this. First, your employees’ responses will confirm your initial thoughts. Second, it will help your employees to have a better understanding of what is important to them when it comes to finding purpose at work.

Question 3: What adjustments should be made to the company’s strategic human resource strategy?

Understanding the makeup of your workforce will give you some insights into what truly motivates your employees. Now it is time to determine if the current motivational approaches and policies (extrinsic and intrinsic rewards) are in alignment with the current and future needs of your organization. This would suggest re-evaluating a firm’s strategic human resource strategy. According to Daft and Marcic (2020), an organization’s strategic human resource approach centers on three major activities:

  • Finding the right people: Includes tasks such as recruiting, selecting, forecasting, and HRM planning.
  • Manage talent: Includes tasks such as training, development, and appraisal.
  • Maintain an effective workforce: Includes tasks such as competitive wages and salary and benefits.

The general recommendation would be to look at what other companies are doing to motivate their employees. For example, identify companies that have received recognition as a great place to work (e.g., Fortune 100 Best companies to Work For) that are in similar industries as your company.

In the context of the archetype framework presented at the beginning of this article, I propose some additional considerations. First, determine if there is a need to recruit a different type of employee archetype based on the future goals and direction of the organization. For example, let’s say that your organization will need future employees who are more autonomous and who can solve complex problems. Based on the archetype descriptions, this would suggest that your organization might need more workers who self-identify or that could be classified as Artisans. Second, when it comes to your existing workforce, inquire from your employees and/or direct reports their level of satisfaction with their current positions. Several strategies that are currently being used by companies include reviewing pay equity in the organization, offering benefits that emphasize the importance of mental and physical well-being and providing educational benefits to support those individuals who want to progress in their careers.

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