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3 keys to motivating your crew

Intrinsic motivation is what drives firefighters toward excellence rather than mediocrity

A couple weeks ago I needed to order something from an online company I had used once or twice before. When I visited the website, I could not remember the password for my account, and when I tried to use the online password retrieval service, I was notified that this service was temporarily not working.

So I called the customer service number on my computer screen. I was immediately connected with a friendly guy named Mike who listened to the problem I was having. While I was on the line, he made sure I was able to reset my password, and confirmed my order.

He gave me good information about changing how my shipping address was listed. As I was completing my order, he said, "I'm going to give you another $5 credit on your order, for your trouble today." 

This was unexpected, since the items I was ordering were already on sale. When I thanked him, he replied, "That's what I love about this job — this company totally supports us to make our own decisions for customers if we think it's the right thing to do."

Motivating factors
I admit I was taken aback. I was talking to a faceless person working in a call center on a Sunday morning for what could not be very good wages, and he's telling me he loves his job? How can that be?

My encounter with Mike reminded me of three principles of motivation I had recently read about in Daniel Pink's excellent book "Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us." This book contends that the only substantial, lasting motivation is intrinsic motivation, and that intrinsic motivation is based on three factors: autonomy, mastery and purpose.

Intrinsic motivation is that which is derived from internal factors rather than external rewards or punishments. Intrinsic motivation is what makes us do something because we want to, not because we have to.

Of course, we are all also driven by external factors. We need money to live. But money alone is not enough to motivate someone to contribute at the highest level possible. In the long run, the most productive, creative and successful people are primarily intrinsically motivated.

How can you foster intrinsic motivation in any work situation? First consider the importance of autonomy. People do not want to be micromanaged.

They want to feel they have the power to make decisions. They want to feel they are trusted.

Autonomy is possible at any level of the fire department. Even the newest firefighters can be given responsibilities for which they are personally accountable.

People can individualize their work to some degree — for instance, it is not necessary that every firefighter do the station tour in exactly the same way. Empowering people to make decisions is a key way to support intrinsic motivation and commitment to the organization.

Mastery and purpose
Mastery is another important aspect of motivation. People want to feel confident in their skills. Good training and a positive learning environment are critical to mastery, but so is leadership.

Are mistakes used as learning opportunities rather than the source of ridicule or shame? Do you positively reinforce best practices? Do firefighters take pride in their skills and seek out new challenges rather than always playing it safe?

Finally, intrinsic motivation comes from attaching oneself to higher sense of purpose when working. Firefighters have purpose in abundance in their work — what could be more noble than protecting lives and property?

But sometimes firefighters forget. They get caught up in little annoyances that come with any job and start to treat firefighting as just any job. It can really help with motivation to not only remind firefighters of their larger purpose, but also actively appreciate your crew and coworkers for being part of that effort.

Lessons from Mike
Intrinsic motivation is important for any job to be done well. Mike at the call center demonstrated all three elements of this type of motivation.

He clearly appreciated the autonomy he had to give me a small discount on my order. He handled my problem skillfully and efficiently. And even though an online order may not be very important in the greater scheme of things, getting that order right was important to me, and Mike understood his role in making that happen.

Autonomy, mastery and purpose are critical elements to fostering intrinsic motivation. Anyone on the job can foster these values in others, but company officers have a special responsibility to do so, for the benefit of the individuals they work with and the people they serve.

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