All kinds of ruses and approaches are used to get people to work and want to work.  Thousands of books have been written on motivation and you have probably read many of them.  The simplest approach, however, and the most powerful one, is to invite people to use their creativity, that quality, which makes them most human and most excites them.  This is easy to do.  We simply need to share our problems, challenges and opportunities with them.  If this keeps us working long hours and thinking and talking endlessly about work issues, why will it not work for everyone?

Loving a Challenge

People love a challenge because they are made for challenges.  I heard a man recently talk on the radio about how, when his business collapsed, he went into deep depression.  One day he found himself in his car a few inches from a pier and an image of his children stopped him from ending his life.  He then told how a friend one day asked him to climb a small nearby mountain or hill.  And he did.  That challenge commenced his recovery, that little challenge that he faced and overcame.  He subsequently climbed Mount Everest and now has five new businesses.

Giving people challenges is so easy to do.  We are surrounded by challenges and problems and exciting opportunities.  People spend time away from work enjoying artificial challenges such as three-mile races in athletics.  At work we have real challenges and some of us don’t use them.  Some managers can take all the burden on themselves, not because they are so good and responsible, but because they enjoy the power, the sense of achievement, the ownership and responsibility, and the challenge.  But in the process, they reduce others to playing minor roles, making them feel bored and unimportant.

Engaging People in seeing what’s out there

We can get people to want to work by running our companies in a truly creative and challenging way.  We can invite all to help us identify and take on the issues and problems that arise, and we can invite all to be alert and awake to all the options that surround us.  Doing this calls for a different approach to how we structure our business and organise our work as well as creating a new version of our role as mangers.

It always intrigues me that people can get so excited at weekends at trying to put a small ball into a hole on a green patch of grass, or a slightly larger ball over a net and an even larger ball into a basket or between two goalposts.  There is no real value being added or any substantial merit in achieving any of these.  A self-enforced challenge or target has been met but the world is not a better place because I beat my friend in a game of golf or tennis, enjoyable and valuable as this is in it’s own way.  What these activities have in common is that they fabricate a challenge or competition.  Compare this to the enormous value being added by these same people during the five days of the working week, be that in products, in services or in improvements to the system and the organisation.  But the reason why many people do not enjoy doing this even though their very livelihood depends on it is that the challenge and competition has been removed, covered over or eclipsed, by a bureaucratic system based on hierarchical power.  Or it gets eclipsed by the money factor where they do it for the money and not for the inherent merit of the thing itself.  People get removed and sheltered from the reality of the business, from the real challenge.  I am often amused to hear managers, in the midst of a long moan about something their workforce is or is  not doing, say: “Mind you, when we were under pressure some years ago, they were great and did whatever was required to get the show back on the road.”  Why was this the case?  Because there was a real challenge, a real and perceived need and people responded with all they had.  But, as soon as the crisis passed, things returned to normal and people went back to “doing their jobs”.

The courage to see and do things differently

I am not suggesting that we fabricate challenges at work just for the sake of it, which is what we actually do in the world of sport, but that we reveal and expose people to the real challenges and the actual competition that is fully present and part of work in every situation.  This is quite easily done.  But we need to change how we organise and give people true responsibility and ownership for what they do and trust them to do it, rather than supervising and managing all challenges and responsibilities.  This involves nothing less than creative work, creative thinking and creative responses.   The essence of creativity is seeing a real need and using all our resources to find and give the very best response to that.