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Moving Motivation Beyond Lip Service

by on August 3, 2015

I recently started reading Lean Library Management: Eleven Strategies for Reducing Costs and Improving Customer Services by John J. Huber. Not twenty pages into it, I came across a familiar tune that can be found in many management books and articles published in the past fifteen years or so: to motivate your staff, you must learn what motivates them; reward and punishment are not effective.

I have been aware for some time that I am resistant to that notion. Consequently, reading those few sentences about employee motivation in Lean Library Management left me cold – I almost stopped reading the book completely.

I have always found this concept a challenging one to make a reality when dealing with a staff of more than two people. The first problem is logistics – how do you find the necessary time to understand what motivates each individual employee? The next problem is whether said employee feels comfortable enough with their manager to truly reveal what their motivation is.

When I worked with a staff of fifteen, I worked hard to overcome the first problem and actually had weekly short meetings with each staff member – lasting five to ten minutes. (They were called “one-on-ones;” although the staff liked to joke and called them “oh no’s.”) I did this for years. Sometimes it was just to ask about how their family was doing; sometimes the time was spent discussing processes in the library. As time went by, the feeling of trust was established. Despite that, when I used the meeting to inquire about their needs as an employee, the answers were fairly non-committal or paid lip-service to what they thought I wanted to hear. I didn’t feel that I received enough information to provide them with what they needed or wanted from me as a manager. Imagine my concerns about the effectiveness of this process when working with a staff of almost sixty.

A further overview of motivational forces can be found on socialcast’s blog (http://blog.socialcast.com) in a graphic that offers a theory on the four basic emotional needs for all humans – Acquire, Bond, Comprehend, and Defend – according to the book Driven: How Human Nature Shapes Our Choices by Paul Lawrence and Nitin Nohria. Their theory focuses primarily on how we behave while at work.

Daniel Pink authored Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, in which he presents three primary motivators for employees. Those motivators are autonomy, mastery, and purpose. In a nutshell, that means that money as a motivator is no longer effective. What people are really looking for is a sense of control over their work, the skills to do their work at a high level of competency, and for that work to be part of a larger community. (Pink covers most of this in a TED talk)

Arguably, it would seem that the last motivator is part-and-parcel with working in a library. But I wanted to find concrete examples of how organizations are achieving all three motivators. We have all heard stories about large corporations that have almost unbelievable perks for their staff but how do smaller organizations effectively motivate staff? I was unable to locate examples of specific small companies that describe their processes in detail.

So I turn to you. Tell me – as a manager or supervisor, do you utilize some version of the Self-Determination Theory in your library to motivate your staff and to build a healthy staff morale? How did you achieve it? How do you maintain it? Tell us in the comments what you think and I will share the best responses in a future column.

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