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Three things that energise and motivate all employees

Gerard Penna, Leadership Advisor & Author

If you’re like most CHRO’s and HR Directors that I know, you’re probably tired.  The last two years have been challenging and draining. Looking out across your organisation, you sense a fatigue and weariness that lies over other teams and divisions.

The Great Resignation is also on your mind.  You’re well aware of the potential for valuable employees to disengage if they feel they’ve nothing left to give, or feeling disconnected from their work, or the organisation.

Yet you’re acutely aware that the show must go on.  There’s important work to be done. If post covid inertia sets in, and your organisation comes out of the blocks slower than needed, there’s a lot to lose. The question on your mind then is, where is the energy to do the work going to come from?  How can we re-energize and re-engage people?

Vast reserves of employee energy
The good news is that employee energy and motivation is not a finite resource.  There are vast and  untapped renewable reserves of motivational energy available to your organisation if it can focus on the right things.

Self Determination Theory, the most validated body of research on human motivation, helps identify the most powerful drivers of employee energy and effort. It tells us that adults will experience optimal motivation and engagement when three fundamental needs are being met.  These needs, common to all employees, are; autonomy, competence and relatedness.

Autonomy is about being able to have the freedom to choose and feel that we are not being overly controlled.  Our need for competence concerns growing, learning and being stretched in ways that allow us to meet the moment and succeed.  Relatedness needs are about feeling like we’re playing a valued role within the team, department or organisation.

Think about moments when you personally have been highly motivated, engaged and energised.  These three sources of motivation will have been present in spades.  The reverse also applies, where a lack of choice, growth, or sense of contribution and belonging left you feeling disengaged and unmotivated.

Activating and leveraging these human motivations in workplaces has been shown to produce a huge range of benefits including better job performance, increased job satisfaction, improved employee morale, and greater psychological health and wellbeing.

Imagine then what could be possible if your most energised experiences were scaled up so that every person in your organisation was having these powerful motivations unleashed on a daily basis. Imagine the vast, untapped reserves of motivational energy that could be drawn upon to power personal and organisational success!

Leadership that releases energy and motivation
To turn this potential into a reality, the most important workplace condition that must be met is leadership.  Not the ordinary, mediocre, ho-hum version of leadership we have to tolerate in many workplaces, but a more remarkable version.  A way of leading that has been shown to be better at unleashing the three critical human motivations of autonomy, competence and relatedness.

I call it catalyst leadership because it operates in a similar way to that of a catalyst in chemistry – adding a small amount of a catalyst can release a large amount of energy from previously inert substances.  Catalyst leadership releases the energy, contribution and potential of people.

According to research I conducted whilst writing my new book Xtraordinary, less than 30% of the leadership currently exercised across our organisations reflects the catalyst leadership pattern.  It is however, a way of leading that is disproportionately represented in high performing organisations, functions and teams.  Especially those who outperform their peers over the long run, through the easy times and the hard.  Like now.

This way of leading is considered extraordinary because it is not yet common in our organisations.   Perhaps before now, when conditions were relatively benign, organisations didn’t need something more extraordinary to power their efforts.  I’d be surprised if that were still the case today. Extraordinary times call from extraordinary leadership.

As CHRO’s and HR Directors you are in a unique position to respond to this opportunity.  To catalyse a different way of thinking about, and actioning leadership. Not only with your own team, but across your organisation, championing and cultivating a way of leading from which every employee’s energy, engagement, and wellbeing can be maximised. Including yours.

Gerard Penna is a leadership advisor author of Xtraordinary: The Art and Science of Remarkable Leadership

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