M&M Mars lecturer discusses workplace motivation theories

Emily Drinks October 22, 2014 0

M&M Mars lecturer Matthew Kirk delved into what motivates employees as part of the M&M Mars Lecture Series on Friday, Oct. 17.

Kirk has worked for the Benecon Group since 2008. He was the 50th employee, and since then the company has grown to 95 employees. Kirk explained that understanding employee motivation has become a personal interest of his, especially in light of understanding what keeps employees working for a company. “It’s important for me to understand what motivates people to work for Benecon,” he said.

The lecture began with Kirk discussing basic motivating factors for employees. The first draw to a particular job is usually payment; Kirk stated that payment can come in forms other than simply money.  Google, for instance, gives their employees unlimited free snacks and food, and the company has pool tables for its employees to use. However, Kirk added that the free food and pool tables could not be all that kept employees working for a company because they would only satisfy employees for a certain amount of time. “One of the greatest mistakes managers make, I believe, is confusing company perks with company culture, whether it be ping-pong or casual clothes,” he said.

Purpose became a large part of what Kirk began researching in light of employee motivation. He looked at those in the military, specifically Special Forces. “These people are extremely motivated by an independent purpose,” Kirk said.  The motivation goes beyond monetary compensation. He said that he had asked friends he knows who worked in Special Forces, and they said that the motivation for them was “the guy next to them.”

After looking at military forces, Kirk studied the psychologist Abraham Maslow for answers about motivation. Maslow formulated a hierarchy of needs, whose later research compressed this theory into a pyramid form. The base began with physiological needs, such as food and water. Then comes safety, followed by love and belonging.  Next is self-esteem, which can come partially from a feeling of accomplishment. The top of the pyramid is self-actualization, which a person achieves after completing everything else on the pyramid and reaching his or her potential. Kirk gave a new point of view to the hierarchy of needs based on the idea Chip Conley, the founder of Joie de Vivre Hospitality, invented as a three-tiered system. The base of physiological needs Kirk likened to money. Then safety and love and belonging are similar to recognition, which creates loyalty. Finally, self-esteem leads to self-actualization, which is similar to meaning leading to inspiration in Conley’s chart. Conley describes self-actualization as peak experiences. “This is not a state of being, but places to reach,” Kirk said.

Kirk added that employees have to reach peak experiences so they can help the customers. “The peak is what great companies should strive for,” he said. Kirk also emphasized that employers should also allow their employees to be transformative, whether by moving an employee to a new position that would better utilize their skills or by building a purpose that the employees will strive to fulfill.  If this is accomplished, then the employees “will find the time and dedicate the ingenuity to make the company better.”

Kirk added that this not only applies to employees, but also customers and investors on a larger scale. He used Apple as an example, which has high employee satisfaction and an intensely loyal customer basis. Kirk said that the reason for this is the peak experiences Apple provides for its employees as well as its customers. “Apple may be the most successful company in the last couple of decades in motivating not just their employees, but also their customers and their investors to those peak experiences,” Kirk said.

Understanding what motivates people is important for any individual in any capacity in a company. “I would argue it’s important if you’re an employee with no one under you,” Kirk said.  He explained that understanding how to motivate people demonstrates to employers that an individual is competent enough to be promoted.

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