Motivating knowledge workers

From listening to much of the dialogue surrounding bankers and their bonuses it seems that huge amounts of money are the primary motivation tool – but what do we really know about the requirements of knowledge workers? In some research cited in the impressively revamped Harvard Business Review, Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer reveal the results of their work based on a muliyear study, tracking the day to day activities, emotions and motivation levels of hundreds of knowledge workers.  The knowledge workers assessed revealed what it was that made a difference to them.

When the researchers asked 600 managers from dozens of companies what they thought would be the most important factor that would motivate others they rated ‘recognition for good work (either public or private)’ as the highest element. What actually made a difference to these knowledge workers was ‘support for making progress’ – the factor the managers rated lowest! The biggest demotivators were their managers impending progress by changing goals autocratically, being indecisive or holding up resources – these all created negative emotions – which have a longer lasting effect than positive ones.brainscience

Of course we are not advocating that you withhold recognition! What the research seems to suggest is that recognition is an important factor, however when dealing with knowledge workers asking yourself the question “What can I do to help him or her keep making progress – or at the very least what do I need to stop getting in their way?”, is likely to be a motivating factor – without the need for big financial bonuses. And do remember a pat on the back from you will be completely worthless to me if I feel you are holding up my projects and stopping my progress!

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