Motivation in an Environment of Uncertainty

Imagine you are considering a new job.  One of the key performance objectives of the job is to motivate the staff that will be working for you.  You are told that there is no money in the budget for bonuses and in fact some salary reduction will likely take place.  There is a chance of downsizing and it is unclear if this situation will actually improve or not.  The people who will be working for you will need to add more value with fewer resources.  Career management and development opportunities have been scaled back and while still important they are constrained by budget challenges.

Would you want this job?

I would imagine some of us would read the above and answer, ‘I’m not going near that job with a 10 foot pole’!  Others of us would read the above and say, ‘Well, that’s pretty much what it’s been like around here for the past few years’!

And many of those with the second response have been part of organizations that have stayed quite motivated over these past few years.  In the absence of pretty much all the typical tools of motivation, motivation has remained.  And it is not motivation disguised as grudging acceptance that ‘this is all there is’; it’s a motivation formed by choice and a very realistic perspective.

So how does this happen?

There seems to be a number of things at play.  There seems to be a different level of honesty in the conversations we have with people.  Those conversations tend to go a little deeper (and tentatively) into the questions of what REALLY matters in this organization (see our blog post Different Times, Different Conversations).  When these conversations happen, the power dynamics that always play out between people come into a truer contrast.  We don’t often deal well with the dynamics of power in our conversations but as we focus a little more on what’s important we are pushed to see the power all around us more clearly.  We are pushed to see what can often be most difficult to see; our own power.

There also seems to be a greater willingness to search out ideas from just about anywhere.  The source of ideas becomes less important than the idea itself.  And with this comes a little more willingness to try things that might fail.  After all, for many organizations what was working in the past is not working now so let’s try something!

There is a greater willingness for leaders and all of us to openly talk about our uncertainty.  This is not about showing vulnerability as much as it is about recognizing that the trappings of organizations that create the illusion of certainty, simply cannot create it.  While we still may go ahead and create our strategic plans and key performance indicators we see more clearly that they are more about the conversations we have with each other about these things than actually believing these systems will create our future.

Yet perhaps what is most important about sustaining motivation is that as the interactions above happen, we realize that no matter what happens, we will be ‘ok’.  While our organizations are important to us, and the roles we play in them are an important part of our identity we do not need them to be our wonderfully human selves.  As the accoutrements of organizational life are stripped away, ‘we’ still remain.

And it seems when we talk about THIS in times of great uncertainty, many, many people make the personal choice to be motivated.

What are the conversations you are having right now in your organizations?

Author:  Tom

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