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What Melts Your Employees' Butter? Understanding Their UMPs (Unique Motivational Profiles)

06/19/2013 05:36 pm ET | Updated Aug 19, 2013

No law says you must like your job, but what is it that motivates people to get up everyday and go to work? If your employee population all won the lottery tomorrow and were all financially set for life, how many would show up the next day? Surveys have suggested that 95 percent to 98 percent would bail out immediately. Can you afford to not understand what melts their butter, floats their boat, and fills their sails?

An Inspired Environment

Maybe it has to do something with the rewards, recognition and incentives that go along with people showing up and staying for years on end. Some will argue that the bona fide way to a committed and loyal employee's heart is solely through monetary earnings, not to mention the gratification of a steady income.

Or maybe, it has to do with working in an inspired environment, where mutual appreciation and respect for fellow co-workers and the employer not only exists but is also the norm. People want to feel wanted and appreciated. It's only human nature. My sister, Judy, a highly decorated first responder (she has won Paramedic of the Year in her county twice) commented the other day that the handwritten personal note from her Chief complimenting her on a particular "save" was so motivational - even more inspiring to her than her awards. It is that simple.

Preventing the Butter from Hardening

First, lets figure out what turns off employees. Performance appraisals are often top of the list. They are the quintessential "CYA" activity. But, why do people shun appraisals like the plague? Because it is highly likely that it is highly reminiscent of their worst nightmare - the continuous assessment of grades in school and ongoing parental haranguing.

Do they have any redeeming qualities? The focus on monitoring and assessing performance should undoubtedly be placed on setting attainable and collaborative goals, making collective decisions, and being able to tackle and solve problems within one's own relative sphere of responsibility and authority along with one's colleagues.

Performance appraisals shouldn't be feared. In fact, they should be welcomed with open arms. In an ideal world, employers wouldn't manage people like two-year olds. Rather, they would encourage skill development and offer training, mentoring and coaching to make that happen. This way, there would be much more empowerment instead of nitty-gritty micro-management. And, many of the performance appraisal systems, while claiming the importance of "robustness" make a highly valued conversation too complex. Rather than scrutinizing every little minute detail or skill involved with an employee's work style or work ethic or way of going about daily tasks, it's certainly more encouraging to ground oneself in the ethos of valuing, motivating and rewarding people. In this way, the focus of appraisals will be on the positives and be a catalyst to cooperation and communications. The butter will start to soften.

Understanding UMPs

Increasing the value of people, and truly understanding why people show up to work and why they stay, is just as important as why they leave.

The tricky part, however, is that not everyone is motivated by the same things. Motivation is an incredibly individual expression. Figuring it our might prove challenging in larger organizations, but probing and prodding for what melts your employee's butter -- their unique motivational profile ("UMP") -- is an expense that is certainly worth spending.

People are inclined to leave their job because they: dislike their boss or co-workers, lack the tools to be productive and move forward or work in a toxic environment, for example. People can be motivated by a myriad of things:

• Excitement that one's work brings them
• Engaging projects
• Interesting environments in which people work
• Captivating people with whom they work
• Work-life balance that the job allows them to have
• Ongoing search for meaning and purpose within their life
• Passion for their work
• Compensation and benefits
• Rewards and bonuses
• Job security
• Opportunity to learn new skills

Do you really understand your employees?

Melting the Butter

Money is notoriously viewed as a motivator, but it is not the only thing that gets people (who have not won the lottery) to come into this thing we call "work." The anticipation that rests in such satisfaction through rewards processes (paychecks, raises and bonuses) is enough to coax employees to tackle mundane tasks and other things that they really could care less about. These are extrinsic (aka external) motivators -- or de-motivators when they are more punitive than rewarding in nature.

Due to the constraints of our economy today, most motivators are intrinsic (aka internal) -- driven by pure enjoyment and interest in the work being performed. The rise in intrinsic motivators is due, in large part, to both the addition of the Millennials -- the youngsters with high ideals -- as well as the fatigued experience of the Boomers -- the older folks who were supposed to be gone by now who now feel stuck in their jobs. Money, while important, is just not what it used to be.

For every 10 articles you read on motivation, five will say that money is key and five will say that lifestyle is key. Today, people expect both. And there are no best practices that apply across the board to all organizations in a world of diverse cultures, values and opinions. People want it all and are tuned into radio station WII-FM ("what's in it for me"). Thus, if you can tap into and listened to the music they enjoy, determine their UMP, and use the myriad of tools that are available, you can put together the right combination of incentives, rewards and motivation to melt their butter.

It is not a trivial task. And, one size does not fit all. Your job is to find the right mix for your people. Let the melting begin!
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Jim Finkelstein is the President and CEO of FutureSense, Inc. Jim is a student of people and is constantly searching for what melts their butter at work. He has dedicated his career to helping organizations improve their effectiveness through strategy and execution of simple and proven solutions. He believes in getting stuff done.www.futuresense.com. Jim is the author of Fuse: Making Sense of the New Cogenerational Workplace (Greenleaf Book Group, 2011). You can follow him on Twitter @futuresense.

This post is derived from an article written by Jim Finkelstein and Melissa Mead that appeared in Leadership Excellence Magazine in December 2012.