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What I find to be a very consistent failure of nearly all “motivational” techniques is ... they expect you to take work, or at least the workplace, personally. In the USA at least, I think that this notion began to die in the mid-1990’s, and it has plunged irretrievably off of a cliff in the past three.
By “personal involvement,” I mean that you equate your identity, your feelings and self-image, indeed your life, to the work and to the work that you do there. You can usually get a good finger on this pulse just by observing the number of personal nick-nacks that a person has in his or her workspace. If you feel that you can get to know both the person and their children and their neighbors just by looking at the decorations of a cube-wall, you know you’re looking at a person who
So, what happened? Topsy turvy. Massive layoffs. Yes, hiring people from foreign lands (“We Work For Less! Always!”) and giving local jobs away to them. (It happens, by the way, all over the world ... the grass is always greener.) Giving people only the ability to be “contractors,” sans benefits, where they once could have expected full-time employment and a retirement account. The message could not have been more clear: “you need us, and we don’t need you, and the only value to anything that you do can be measured in money. You are an Expense.”
Kind of a dumb thing to do, but it was all-the-rage in business books of the time. Employees went on the defensive, and for very obvious reasons. Dilbert became a best-selling comic that never ran out of raw material. And, the game changed.
Abruptly, employers found themselves competing for resources who were now playing the same game that they once did. Loyalty could not be obtained at any price. When one party does not invest in the relationship, he cannot expect any “investment” from the other. I suspect that it will be many decades (if ever) before anyone again feels that “years of service to The Company” will ever be rewarded – or even that it is safe to do such a thing.
One of my cousins, who was reasonably happy in his job for about eleven(!) years, found himself displaced ... and, although he is very savvy and landed quickly ... was absolutely shocked to be asked in an interview, “why didn’t you get another job in the last eleven years?” He might have been making a wry joke, but he actually said to me, “I think the guy suspected I might have been in prison or something.”
If you are managing a project, I would frankly say that if you want to attract and keep the talent that you need, you’d better spend little time trying to “motivate your people” or second-guessing their psychology (and the culture of their inevitably-far-away country of origin) and a lot of time trying to make your project the best-run project you have ever seen. If you observe that the people seem to be “un-motivated,” then the brain-drain has already begun and it is happening from the top. If you lose ’em, you probably can never get ’em back. Go look into a nearby mirror until you see where the problem is.