Motivation and Feedback Systems - Training and Development

When T&D specialists discover cases where workers can do the job properly but are failing to do so, it's fitting to ask, "Do they know, while they do their work, how well they are doing?"

That question is really geared to discover whether the employees are receiving feedback.Why is feedback so important?

Feedback systems are attractive alternatives to training because they motivate workers,are inexpensive, and can be part of the regular management reporting system.

First,let's see why feedback is in itself something of a motivator. When employees are able to see their own accomplishments, they have more reason to be interested in their work, more reason to be satisfied with their assignments, a greater sense of being needed, and a keener awareness of their contributions.

Unless graduates of training programs receive on-the-job feedback about the skills they acquired in that training, they tend to lose the new behaviors.

Feedback,on the other hand, can "control" their performances. In short,feedback gives workers more reason to care, more motivation to perform well. Motivation means "a motive for action." Put another way,motivation is the reason someone chooses to do some things and chooses not to do others.

Motivation is a fundamental component of performance. Supervisors and managers are responsible for achieving the goals of the organization through leading the performance or efforts of their employees. The HRD or T&D professional can be of tremendous assistance in the process. Individual job performance can be summarized as follows:

Performance= Ability x Motivation (effort)

In this model, performance is the product of ability times motivation:

Ability= Aptitude x Training x Resources

  • Aptitude refers to current skills and capabilities, education, and previous job experience.
  • Resources are the tools that an employee needs to do the work (e.g., equipment,supplies, the work of other employees, time to complete the tasks, etc.).

Motivation= Desire x Commitment

  • Desire means wanting to perform the job, but desire by itself is not enough. An employee who wants to complete a task but who is easily distracted or discouraged cannot perform well (high desire/low commitment).
  • Commitment means being persistent or trying hard to complete a task. However,without desire, an employee could be committed to his/her work but proceed slowly and produce only adequate results (low desire/high commitment).

The multiplication symbol (x) demonstrates that all elements are essential. Someone with 100 percent of the motivation and 75 percent of the ability needed for a job can perform at above average level. However, an individual with only 10percent of the ability would not be able to perform acceptably regardless of how motivated he or she is.

What then are the elements of ability and motivation?

  • Aptitude refers to current skills and capabilities, education, and previous job experiences.
  • Training is a mechanism for improving employee job performance.

Almost any ability can be improved through training.

  • Resources are the tools that an employee needs to actually do the work (e.g.,equipment, supplies, the work of other employees, time to complete tasks,etc.).

The fundamental elements of motivation include the following key concepts:

  • Desire means wanting to perform the job, but desire by itself is not enough. An employee who wants to complete a task but who is easily distracted or discouraged cannot perform well (high desire/low commitment).
  • Commitment means being persistent or trying hard to complete a task. However, without desire, an employee could persistently plod along but his or her work is barely adequate (low desire/high commitment).

The fundamental assumptions about motivation include:

  • A supervisor's actions influence the day-to-day motivation of employees. People respond to the manner in which they are treated.
  • A supervisor can simultaneously achieve department goals and be concerned about employee satisfaction at the same time.
  • Positively reinforcing high performance employees is as important as dealing with motivation-based problems.

The first thing a manager or supervisor must do when faced with an employee performance problem is to determine whether the employee understands that there is performance problem. Again, the HRD or T&D specialist can play a pivotal role in this process by providing a framework for the performance standards,investigating industry benchmarks, and so forth.

If the employee does not understand that there is a performance problem:

  • The process of identifying the problem must be temporarily put on hold.
  • The manager/supervisor should focus on resolving the differences in perception through two-way communication.
  • The manager/supervisor may have to clarify current expectations.
  • The employee does not have to like the fact that there is a performance problem,only acknowledge that there is one.

What happens if the employee understands that there is a performance problem?

When a supervisor has a performance problem to solve, he or she must identify whether poor performance is rooted in ability or motivation. Why? If a manager or supervisor incorrectly assesses the root case of the performance problem,that problem may get worse.

The story of Jack and Jill's work-based research shows that supervisors tend to apply more pressure on an employee if they believe that the employee is deliberately not performing to expectations. The following is an example of that approach:

  1. Jill, the supervisor, decides that the performance problem of Jack, her employee,is rooted in motivation.
  2. Jill increases the pressure on Jack.
  3. Jack believes that Jill is insensitive to his real problem—lack of resources, lack of training, or unrealistic time schedules. Because the root of the performance problem has not been addressed, Jack continues to perform poorly. Eventually,Jack develops a motivational problem as his desire and/or commitment decreases under this misapplied pressure.
  4. Jill notices this and is convinced that her original assessment of Jack was correct (it's become a self-fulfilling prophecy).
  5. Things go downhill from there.

There are four general diagnostic questions to assist in determining whether the performance problem is an ability or a motivation problem.

Supervisors,managers, and T&D specialists need four pieces of information to know the difference between an ability-related problem and a motivation related one: the level of difficulty of the task; the employee's level of capability; how hard the employee is trying to complete the task successfully; and how much improvement the employee is making in his/her attempts to complete the task successfully.

Performance problems linked to low ability stem from the inability of the employee to do the work. Possible factors include:

  • Very difficult tasks
  • Overall low level of skill and/or aptitude
  • Evidence of strong effort yet a lack of improvement over time
  • Inadequate resources
  • Inadequate training

Low Motivation: Performance problems linked to low motivation stem from the employee's unwillingness to give the necessary effort. Possible factors include:

  • Low commitment with high desire—the employee wanted to perform well, yet is distracted or discouraged easily.
  • High commitment with low desire—the employee is very persistent at the job, but his or her performance is lackluster: of low or moderate quality.
  • Both low commitment and low desire—over time this can result when the cause of the problem is not properly identified, or the problem is misdiagnosed or ignored.

If the employee does not agree that there is a performance problem, the following steps should be taken:

  • The process of diagnosing the problem must be temporarily put on hold.
  • The manager or supervisor should focus on resolving the differences in perception through two-way communication.
  • The manager or supervisor may have to clarify current expectations.

(The employee does not have to like the fact that there is a performance problem,only acknowledge that there is one.) When the employee agrees that there is a performance problem, use the following diagnostic points or questions to assess whether the problem is one of ability or motivation. You may recall from the earlier discussion that these questions involve: the level of difficulty of the task; the employee's level of capability; how hard the employee is trying to complete the task successfully;and how much improvement the employee is making in his/her attempts to complete the task successfully. Other key considerations are whether the employee understands and accepts the performance expectations, and whether the employee believes that it is possible to achieve the expectations. This brings us to the subject of goals and objectives. The foundation of an effective motivation program is proper goal setting.

Employees are more likely to "buy into" goals if they are a part of the goal setting process. Put another way, involvement in goals leads to commitment to goals. The HRD or T&D specialist can play an important role in this process by establishing parameters for performance goals and by designing and operating a performance appraisal system that focuses on performance expectations and standards for a specific timeframe.

A goal is a specific and measurable target for achievement within a specific timeframe and with a specific set of resources. For goal setting to be effective in improving or sustaining motivation, the goals must be:

  • Specific—measurable, unambiguous, behavioral
  • Consistent—logically possible to attain
  • Appropriately challenging—high expectations encourage high performance; goals that are too easy to reach may not be rewarding or motivating

Well-written goal statement contains enough information to identify who is accountable, what is to be achieved, when the activity will be completed, and constraints and resources required for the process. Managers, supervisors, and the T&D Specialist play an important role in this process.

In general, employees will accomplish objectives when consequences are attached to both the achievement and the non achievement of those objectives.

  • Rewarding is the consistency of linking desired behaviors with employee- valued outcomes. You should link positive consequences (rewards) to high-quality performance, not to nonperformance factors (e.g., seniority).
  • Disciplining is responding negatively to an employee's behavior for the purpose of discouraging future occurrences of that behavior. You should use negative consequences (discipline) to reduce unacceptable performance.

Keep in mind that a supervisor is always reinforcing something. In other words,behavior that is repeatedly exhibited in front of a supervisor is being rewarded, regardless of the supervisor's intention. A supervisor should not ignore or minimize the seriousness of unacceptable employee behavior by personally fixing an employee's mistakes or by encouraging high performers to be tolerant.

Psychologists who specialize in adult behaviors stress that mature humans regard self-evaluation as having primary importance; evaluation by others is secondary. It just naturally follows that when workers have a simple method for continuing their accomplishments, they find the very process of counting both reinforcing and motivating.

Thus T&D "consultants" ask questions such as these:

  • How do workers find out how many times they have completed the task successfully?
  • How do they discover whether their units of work are satisfactory or unsatisfactory?
  • Do they ever judge their own work to determine whether it is or is not satisfactory?
  • What tally do they see showing the number of successful units, or the ratio of satisfactory to unsatisfactory units?
  • Who keeps that tally? Themselves? Their immediate superiors? A quality-assurance specialist?
  • At what intervals do they see the data about the quantity and quality of their work?
  • What positive reinforcement is made as a result of high achievement?
  • What follow-up (consequence) is made for low achievement?
  • Do the workers themselves have control over the action that corrects their poor performance?

When such questioning reveals no feedback, the T&D specialist may have found not only the cause of the performance problem but also a possible solution.

The results of simple feedback systems generate many success stories. The trouble is, the stories are unbelievable because they produced such dramatic results in such short time. Yet they happened. In one firm, clerks retrieved millions of dollars in lost business each month simply by recording the dollar value of shipments resulting from matching backorders with unnoticed inventory in the warehouses. Performance went from the low teens to mid-eighties in one week. An air freight forwarder reported overnight strides as a big problem: the failure of agents to consolidate small shipments. Workers merely kept tallies of how often they might have consolidated—and how often they actually did. In both situations, the new high-performance levels were maintained for long periods just through feedback.

Several principles are important to successful feedback systems; for example:

  1. The feedback mechanism must be simple. If it's cumbersome or time consuming, requiring lots of work or lengthy reports, it will be an unpleasant task—and thus will erode motivation. Obviously, simplicity also contributes to the economy of maintaining performance.
  2. The workers should check their own work and enter the data onto the feedback form. Why? Because adults perceive self-evaluation as more valid and more important than evaluation from anybody else.
  3. The data in the feedback form should be quantitative. Many experts feel that if it can't be expressed in numbers, it shouldn't be entered. Thus workers can count units completed, opportunities captured, dollars of revenue.They can also make distinctions between "okay" and "not okay" units. By tallying the ratio between these two, they give themselves feedback on both the quantity and quality of their work. Other units of measurement can be time-taken-to-complete-a-task, or numbers of successive error-free performances.
  4. .If at all possible, the form on which workers give themselves feedback should be a part of the regular reporting system already installed to provide management what it needs to know about the operation.
  5. The feedback should enable employees to modify their performance and the system itself. By checking themselves, they can modify their performance without feeling "snoopervised." If they repeat the same error for an external reason, their reporting the interference to management can lead to modifications in the system itself.

Skeptics ask whether employees won't "cheat" when given such control over the feedback. The answer seems to be, "Oh, now and then—but not as much as one might expect." And anyway, the form can be designed so that there is no payoff for cheating. For example, with the freight forwarder: There would be no sense in showing opportunities not taken, and the consolidations they actually did make are a matter of local record. In other words, there is no point in manufacturing data about units completed if the total system output won't support your data. But the main point is this: There is little evidence that people cheat very much on self-controlled feedback systems.

There is, however, strong evidence that when people have the mechanism forcontrolling their own output, they perform in the desired fashion—and do somore frequently. Such improvement in quality and quantity of performance is,after all, what both T&D managers and client managers want.


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