Right now it’s three degrees outside, with a wind chill that makes it feel like sixteen below. I’m not complaining, though; the sun is out, and with several inches of snow cover on the ground the landscape is quite beautiful. And anyway, this post isn’t about me.
It’s about my dog.
I have an elderly standard poodle named Kayda (short for “Wihakayda,” a Sioux word meaning “little one”) and she’s not sure what to do with herself today. Most afternoons she gets a healthy 30-minute hike at a nearby nature reserve, but it’s been so cold and icy that we haven’t been able to go for the last few days. As a result—and even at 12 years of age—she’s got a ton of energy and no real way to burn it off. So she wants to go outside. A lot.
Did I mention that it’s three degrees out there?
She goes to the door. Barks. Comes upstairs to let me know what she wants. Barks again. I stop what I’m doing and trudge downstairs. Let her out. She bites at the accumulated snow cover, then grabs her Kong, which, thankfully, she’s learned how to push off the deck and chase in an incredibly intelligent game of self-fetch. Then she immediately comes back and paws dramatically at the back door to be let back in. I obey, then give her a dog biscuit. All of this takes about three minutes: She, too, realizes it’s three degrees outside. Unfortunately, with all that energy—and a dog’s inability to store things in short-term memory—she wants to do it all over again 20 minutes later.
And so I find myself thinking: what motivates her?
The energy she has, of course, and her need to burn it off, come primarily to mind. But that certainly isn’t all of it. It could just as easily be the fact that coming back gets her that dog biscuit—an incentive which I’ve built into her through incessant repetition. Or it could be those savory chunks of ice—hell, I still chew on the ice cubes at the bottom of a medium soda, a habit I can’t break either. Perhaps, too, she just wants an occasional change of scenery, a chance to do something she’s not doing currently, and going outside is her only option. Or maybe it’s all of these things.
And then I got to thinking: we often talk about motivation as if it’s a single thing, and we wonder, as leaders, what we should be doing to motivate the people and teams we work with. Should we give them an incentive (which could be anything from free pizza when they work late to a cash bonus for meeting goals)? Should we give them time to play a bit, loosening a sometimes too-stressful work structure in order to allow for some fun? Or how about a change of scenery—a new set of responsibilities, for example, or a chance to work with new people?
Or how about all of these?
Many of the companies we work with struggle with employee engagement and employee morale, looking for the right way to motivate people. Maybe, instead, we should be looking at the right ways to motivate people. Watching my dog reminds me that one size doesn’t fit all—in fact, one size probably doesn’t even fit one. People change every day, after all. Their needs change, their wants change, and their motivations change. We as leaders, can help when we remember to respond to those changes by keeping motivation at the top of our list of important employee engagement topics. It’s only through constant awareness and adjustment that we can bring out the best in people. For example, maybe people just want to have a little….
Sorry. Have to go. I need to let Kayda out. She’s barking again….