Working people innately motivated to do good job

Ceramic Artist Image

Joe Caron, artist, gives ceramics demonstration at Liberal Arts Meet and Greet, Truckee Meadows Community College in November 2014. Photo by P. Bouweraerts.


Updated Feb. 28, 2016

By Patricia Bouweraerts —

Big Brother may have watched the employees in George Orwell’s “1984,” but current thinking is that people are fundamentally driven to do their best, whether scrutinized or not.

According to the rules for employees of the Siegel and Cooper department store in New York City, about 1900, staff members were indeed closely watched.

“You would be very much surprised if you knew the trouble and expense we go to to find out ‘character and habits,’” stated their guidelines. “Detectives you don’t know often are detailed to report all your doings for a week.”

Contrary to this set of employee regulations, most all people have an inherent need to do a good job, according to experts now.

Kevin Ciccotti, CPCC, PCC, Certified Professional Coach, said that “none of us goes to work in the morning intending to do a poor job – that’s just not in our DNA.”

Thomas Kubistant, Ed.D., who is the creator of Basic Supervisor Training, and a speech communications instructor at Western Nevada College, agrees.

“Deep down inside, we all want to do a good job,” Kubistant said. “Bad work environments can stifle that.”

The training series he developed focuses on pulling employees—drawing out their innate desire to do well—instead of pushing them to follow orders. This method has proven very successful in feedback he has received from companies.

Susan M. Heathfield, human resources consultant, wrote in an article on that many companies continue to operate as if “the employee should be grateful to have a job.”

“Managers are on power trips and employee policies and procedures are formulated based on the assumption that you can’t trust employees to do the right thing,” she wrote.

A leader at Google, Inc. believes that workers will choose the right thing to do. Chade-Meng Tan, head of mindfulness training at Google, Inc., and bestselling author, spoke in a November 2010 TED Talks presentation about the independence his firm gives its employees, and the results of that policy.

“So in Google, there’s a lot of autonomy,” he said. “And one of our most popular managers jokes that, this is what he says, ‘Google is a place where the inmates run the asylum.’ And he considers himself one of the inmates. If you already have a culture of compassion and idealism and you let your people roam free, they will do the right thing in the most compassionate way.”

Reasons people work

David McClelland was an American psychologist who developed the Human Motivation Theory, a system referred to in college management courses. His method is arranged in three sets of needs, or motivators. According to, the three clusters of needs are:

  • Achievement – need to accomplish challenging goals, get feedback
  • Affiliation – need to belong to a group, be liked, collaborate
  • Power – need to influence others, compete, be recognized

Kubistant narrows the needs down to two, based on the theories about motivation formulated by Andras Angyal, a Hungarian-American psychologist.

“In people from all walks of life, basic needs boil down to two – mastery and participatory,” Kubistant said. “After you gain mastery of something, you start to want to participate and be part of a bigger effort. And it also works the other way around. The two counterbalance each other really well.”

Therefore, if a person is part of an organization they believe in, they become motivated to gain mastery of the tasks needed to further the group’s work.

“Initially, peoples’ basic needs are to make money and gain some stability,” he said. “After some time, they get a notion of a career.”

Heathfield wrote in another post on that people work for money first—“money provides basic motivation”—but they also want:

  • Control of work – the ability to impact decisions, job enrichment and tasks for the work itself
  • Belonging to a group – receiving information and communication, understand why management decisions are made, participate in meetings
  • Growth and development – education and training, the ability to be promoted
  • Good leadership – clear expectations, feedback and organized working structure

None of us goes to work in the morning intending to do a poor job – that’s just not in our DNA.

Kevin Ciccotti

Ciccotti thinks that development is key.

“People want to feel they are growing – that’s what will keep them engaged,” Ciccotti said. “We all want to grow in our work.”

Employees need leaders who have their back

Natural tendencies and needs of workers indicate that efficient management might be oriented more to assuming the best.

“Good supervisors don’t meet needs, they set up situations where employees can meet their own needs,” Kubistant said. “They will be a more loyal, safe and innovative employee.”

What do employees need in a boss?

“They want leaders who are good communicators, protect them – look out for them and support them,” he said. “Someone whom they can respect and also who has their back.”

He adds that employees like to have someone help them set new goals and then be complemented on their growth.

“One of the most underrated productivity tools is the performance review,” he said. “Most people are surprised when I say this, but that’s because the reviews are always negative. Or, they are tied to money and a promotion.”

The annual review is useless.

Thomas Kubistant

“It’s about setting meaningful goals on a regular basis – the person is going to be motivated,” he said. “It’s looking at the past few months and then setting appropriate and attainable goals. ‘You’ve done this and this right the last couple of months, and if you do this, you’ll be a superstar.’ They’ll get a sense of belonging that the company is loyal to them.”

He said that the purpose is not to review the past, but to use the immediate past to look to the future.

“The managers have to be accountable too,” he said. “To conduct the reviews well and complement the employees. The annual review is useless.”

Things to look for when applying for a job

The better, shorter-term performance review has to be directed from CEOs and owners, Kubistant said. The worker cannot do anything about this if he or she is working at a company that does an annual review process.

When applying for a position, the prospective employee may want to find out how reviews are organized in the new company. An applicant might also want to listen for the mention of employee development programs.

“After the Recession, most companies cut employee development programs,” he said. “Some organizations have been bought out by larger uncaring corporations.”

Ciccotti has always enjoyed encouraging people to rise to greater achievements and said that helping others succeed inspired him to become a career coach, speaker and trainer. He thinks that recognizing people for their accomplishments is important for both the company and its employees.

Kubistant agrees.

“Most of it is treating everyone as a unique individual,” Kubistant said.


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