Great Motivators

I’ve been teaching people and management skills to maintenance supervisors and managers for almost 20 years. In that time I have collected hundreds of stories about how different supervisors experienced motivation. At some point I thought it would be interesting to look at all the stories.

The stories sorted themselves out into two major types which I called “Everyday Motivators” and “Interventional Motivators.” There were eight “Everyday Motivators” and six “Interventional Motivators.”

Motivating maintenance workers is not tough if you take a logical approach. Having a motivated workforce is not an accident, but a combination of a deliberate approach with action.

There is a barrier, however. The barrier is that things outside your department or area can be powerful de-motivators. These de-motivators can exist at any level and can strike without warning.

Imagine you are the supervisor for who told me, “For 10 years my supervisor took credit for the things that we did that went right, but when things went wrong he was the first to point the finger.”

How would you like to go to work every day like the manager who told me that, “It’s an environment where everyone does their own thing and doesn’t try to work together as a team. The employers don’t seem to care what happens. The building systems are neglected and fall apart and we rush to fix them” That sounds depressing.

One manager who spoke to me supervised a crew that had just gone through an 81 day strike. The result was $.92/hour pay cut after no increases for the last six years. He reports “the number one problem is morale and motivation.”

We can all identify with these situations. Note that in the first case the problem was with a person, in the second with a department and in the third with the entire company. Ideally motivation is the result of the three levels working together in concert.

You can have a motivated workgroup in spite of a negative department or adverse company situation. It’s just harder.

One of the classical theories about motivation comes from Abraham Maslow. While there is very little scientific support for them, I believe that Maslow’s theories, with some modification, closely correspond to what we observe with the stories that follow.

Maslow’s theory holds that there are five categories of needs that motivate people. These categories are loosely organized into a hierarchy.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (from highest to lowest)

  • Self actualization: growth, fulfill potential
  • Esteem: achievement, strength, self confidence, prestige
  • Social: group identification, friends, social setting
  • Safety: security, stability, dependency, freedom from fear
  • Physiological: thirst, hunger, air, shelter

When the lower level needs are unfulfilled they tend to assert themselves and become dominant. This is easiest to see with the lower level needs: having friends is important but is less important when you are in fear of your safety or can’t make your mortgage payment. Everyone is in various levels of satisfaction with the hierarchy.

In my next column, I’ll examine some major themes in successful motivation. I’ll be looking at two types of activities and attitudes. The first type is a daily way to conduct business and the second concerns one time (or once a year) interventions. Stay tuned!

Joel Levitt has trained over 6,000 maintenance leaders from over 3,000 organizations. Since 1980, he has been the president of Springfield Resources, a management consulting firm that services a variety of clients on a wide range of maintenance issues.