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Growth Strategies

Self-Motivated Innovation

By Matt Edison

Mike Rowe, host of Discovery Channel’s Dirty Jobs, reports that the most content and hard working people he’s ever met are the ones doing America’s dirtiest jobs.  These same people did not "follow their passion" into their dirty jobs but found satisfaction in them despite the working conditions and type of work.  As manufacturing company owners and managers struggle to improve performance, create innovation, and employ good people, Mike Rowe’s observations could be used to create self-motivated employees.  Doing this requires understanding where self-motivation comes from and how to harness it.

In 1968, Professor Frederick Herzberg wrote, One More Time: How Do You Motivate Employees?, in which he analyzed job satisfaction survey results from 1,685 employees in 23 occupations, including assembler, foreman, scientist, engineer, and manager.  Work conditions accounted for only 10% of all events that led to extreme job dissatisfaction. Company policy and administration scored 55% combined.  Extreme job satisfaction was helped only 3% by work conditions. 

Today, Mike Rowe meets people content doing tough jobs in decidedly dirty conditions.  It seems that 41 years later, work conditions still don’t matter when it comes to employee satisfaction. What, then, does deliver job satisfaction?  Professor Herzberg’s study concluded that extreme job satisfaction comes overwhelmingly from two things: achievement and recognition. 

Any time spent as a hands-on volunteer provides insight into what creates job satisfaction and thus self-motivated employees. Volunteers feel a sense of achievement when their contribution matters to someone outside their organization. They feel recognition from working with others towards a common cause.  Manufacturers can use these same lessons to produce job satisfaction for their employees. To create a profitable sense of achievement, employee contributions must be aligned with doing what matters for someone outside the corporation, also known as delivering a satisfaction (See "What Do Customers Buy").  For employees to sense recognition for their contributions, all colleagues and managers must be seen striving towards delivering the same satisfaction.

The Rolex challenge helps managers identify the satisfaction their company delivers.  Senior managers are asked to explain why customers pay $3500 for a Rolex compared to $350 for a Seiko.  After some discussion they are told that Rolex delivers high performance prestige and Seiko delivers a high performance watch.  Managers then write down, without discussion, what satisfaction they think their company delivers.  Each manager reads aloud what he wrote.  Widely varying views are normal.  Managers then work together to develop a common definition of satisfaction delivered.

To create self-motivated employees requires improving an internal company process using the newly defined satisfaction as a guide.  A process that best impacts the delivery of the company’s satisfaction is mapped.  The affected employees identify which steps contribute to delivering the satisfaction, which ones are unnecessary and which ones are missing.  By improving the process and then working the improved process, employees feel they are making a contribution that matters outside company – achievement – and feel that everyone is pursuing a common cause – recognition.  These self-motivated employees will be able to improve the performance of countless other processes, including the one used to develop innovations. 

A company full of self-motivated employees content to work on delivering satisfaction, will thrive even in the worst of times.


Matt Edison works as the Reactive Silicones Business Manager for Gelest, a specialty chemical manufacturer.  Since 1989, Matt has also worked for DuPont, General Chemical, and Inolex Chemical where his jobs included Plant Manager and Engineering Manager, among others.  In his current role, Matt leads business development projects, manages the company’s silicone technology group, and improves the company’s business systems.  These duties combine his special interest in aligning resources to realize customer opportunities. Matt lives in Woodbury, New Jersey with his wife Ellen and their four children. He can be reached at [email protected].

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