Micro-motivation can inspire employees

If you read nothing else, read this…

• Micro-motivation is a way of ensuring each employee’s motivation levels are targeted in a manner that is specific to that individual.
• The employer must understand what drives individuals rather than taking a one-size-fits-all approach.
• Achieving micro-motivation in an organisation often comes down to the relationship between the line manager and the employee.
• Motivation should be a continuous activity rather than a one-off or annual event.

Case study: Volvo staff incentives drive sales

When Volvo Car UK wanted to boost sales of its SE Lux and executive level vehicles last year, it launched a motivation programme for sales staff that had a personalised focus for individuals. This enabled managers to discuss an individual’s performance and match it with a variety of incentives.

Volvo’s Hub programme, provided by P&MM, included a range of rewards branded as the Golden Apple reward, the Big Apple prize draw and the Accessories Extra reward.

The top prize in the scheme was a weekend in New York for the employee and a guest. The Golden Apple option included prizes such as Apple iPods and iPads. Meanwhile, the Accessories Extra category awarded each employee £50 for every accessory sale on top of the sale of a vehicle.

A Volvo-branded website enabled employees to track and redeem their rewards online. More than 80% of the 420 staff taking part logged onto the website during the promotion.

Bob Moore, programme manager at Volvo Car UK, says: “A close relationship between managers and their sales executives was reinforced by personalised performance data, updated on a frequent basis.

“This meant motivation could be managed on an individual basis, allowing the audience to focus on their achievable rewards, keeping them engaged for longer.”

Different things inspire different people, so micro-motivation may be the best way for employers to get the best out of individuals, says Jennifer Paterson

What motivates an individual is as personal as their preferred choice of crisps, chewing gum or cocktail. So while a broad motivation scheme will be effective for some staff, it cannot easily cater to the wide range of needs and interests across a workforce.

Micro-motivation is one way employers can incentivise employees in a manner that is specific to each individual. Adrian Duncan, motivation business development director at P&MM, says: “The generic approach is to set out an incentive or base target, so it is a level playing field for everyone. Micro-motivation is getting to grips with what an individual is about and what they can do for the employer.”

First, it is important for an employer to understand what drives an individual. Each employee will be motivated by a different driver, so the employer cannot apply a broad-brush approach. Dr Cary Cooper, professor of organisational psychology and health at Lancaster University Management School, says: “One person may be driven by the need to work for somebody that makes them feel valued and trusted, while somebody else may be driven by the fact it will help their career because they are very achievement-driven.”

It can be all too easy to adopt a one-size-fits-all approach to motivation, says Sean Howard, vice-president of solutions marketing at SHL Group. “If an employer wants to keep certain individuals, it has to start treating employees as individuals,” he says. “As an example, consider a Formula One racing car. Lots of research has gone into it and it is a very fast, very clever car. But if the driver’s team do not put fuel into it, it will not go anywhere. Employees need different fuel and the fuel is motivation. It has to be adjusted to the individual.”

More specifically, the concept of micro-motivation comes down to the relationship between line manager and employee. For instance, if a manager is aware that an employee is very focused on their family, the manager could suggest certain types of reward that fit that driver, such as family activities, holidays or flexible working arrangements. P&MM’s Duncan says: “The manager specifically understands the performance of the individual, and then can relate that to something of real value for that employee in terms of reward.

“Rather than setting employees a target, a manager should set a reward. If they ask what sort of reward the employee would like rather than what kind of target, then the reward becomes the motivator.”

Conduct a review process

To achieve this, a manager could begin by conducting an appraisal or review process with staff. This would give them the opportunity to talk to employees, listen to them, receive feedback, and find out what drives each employee. Daniel Hibbert, director in PricewaterhouseCooper’s reward practice, explains: “The critical thing is the skill and competency of the line manager to manage that sort of system. Something that is decided three or four tiers up the organisation loses that intimacy and the motivational effect is diminished.”

So, achieving micro-motivation often depends on an organisation’s quality of leadership and management. Eric Thompson, director of Jest Management Services, says: “I have three questions that I suggest each manager should be asking to focus on the individual: Are they communicating properly? Have employees’ views been listened to and accounted for? Has the employer discussed development with the employee?”

SHL Group’s Howard calls this the ‘stay’ interview. “It has to be one-to-one and it has got to be about the individual,” he says. “We recommend using a diagnostic to identify what it is that motivates different individuals.

Line managers sit and talk to the employee about what motivates them, what their career ambitions are, what they like and do not like in the job, and how they want the manager to interact with them. They would then initiate a development plan that is aligned with what the employee wants and they fix up regular meetings of this kind.”

Tailoring schemes to individuals

When it comes to offering specific incentive and recognition schemes within an organisation, these also have to be tailored to individual employees. P&MM’s Duncan says: “We have a client that has taken a more segmented micro-motivation approach. It starts off with a general incentive that is applicable to everyone in the same way, and then, as it runs through the campaign, it segments the top 25%, which are generally those who contribute a significant amount, then segments the next 25%, and then the remaining 50%.

“We then tailor tiers of reward, messages and communication to individuals within those categories, making sure everyone is getting the message that is relevant to them.”

It is also important that these messages are not a one-off or annual activity but part of a larger motivation exercise that continues throughout the year. Jest’s Thompson says: “An employer cannot just implement a motivation project and assume everyone will be motivated thereafter. It is like a dripping tap. It has to keep at it and continue doing things all the time.”

Hibbert adds: “It works better if it is used regularly, so weekly or monthly is a lot better than annually. That is because staff will get a better understanding of what is going on and so the incentive is more immediate.”

Making a connection and understanding an employee as an individual rather than as one fish in a larger pond, and rewarding and incentivising them on that basis, therefore, can be a far more effective way of motivating that employee.

Different strokes for different folks

What motivates employees will depend on the individual. Factors affecting motivation include:

• Autonomy
• Money
• Progression
• Status
• Recognition
• Power
• Affiliation
• Security
• Competition
• Personal growth
• Interest

Read more on articles on staff motivation