To begin with it is important to understand that above all a board membership means responsibility, not power. The board is the guardian of the organisation’s mission and it needs to make sure that the organisation lives up to its mission and appraises its performance. The board members should internalize the feeling of responsibility rather than that of power.
Motivation of people still happens through Pavlovian carrot-and stick incentives. 2500 years ago, the city of Athens gave its citizens a direct voice and an active role in civic governance. The city rose to an unprecedented political and economic power. The system succeeded in bringing individual initiative and common cause into harmony. Some may claim that the Athenian model does not provide a simple set of prescriptions for modern managers. It does, however, offer a window into how sizeable groups of people can successfully govern themselves with dignity and trust and without resorting into a stifling bureaucracy. Being able to contribute to the success of an organisation/company or a whole industry is seen as the most important reason for a board memberships.
The ethics of work motivation theory are important because motivational efforts can exert control over individual moral autonomy. Among other things, motivation usually involves the manipulation of values that motivate individuals to work for organizational ends. In other words, factors that individual workers regard as valuable need to be channelled or redirected to augment organizational productivity. The phenomenon behind high level of motivation is the sense of responsibility.
The ethical issue regarding the motivation for work concerns the moral status of the worker (board member). Is he or she an instrument for organizational ends and/or an end in himself or herself? On the former view, the worker’s values are important to management only insofar as they can be channelled in productive ways. For example, an individual who is driven by material wealth can be motivated to produce more of what the organization wants him or her to produce with pay-for-performance incentives, whereas another individual to whom recognition is important may be enticed when he or she is offered an impressive title and opportunities for greater managerial responsibility. On this view, the worker’s values are not important because they are individually valuable; they are important because they are organizationally valuable.
The concept of motivation is invariably linked with the notion of reinforcement or reward. It has been noted in the literature that rewards can come from sources external to the organisation as well as from within. The value and impact of variables like autonomy, satisfaction, the feeling of being in control, and making meaningful contributions, can all come from within, and may serve as powerful reinforcement or rewards for an individual, making him or her sustain the motivated level of work performance. Recognition is considered a reward which comes with successful contribution and active participation to the work.
Motivation can also come from the fact that board members receive an opportunity to serve an organization they believe in, a chance to learn new skills, an opportunity to be with people that share the same values, and the opportunity to forge strong personal and professional connections. In return, they offer the organisation their time, skills, knowledge, and commitment. Burnout and lack of direction, however, can lead to a lack of productivity, a misalignment of board actions and board member values, and general dissatisfaction on the board. For the health of the organisation, it is critical to create an environment that fosters and maintains a high level of board member motivation and accountability.
There are several strategies that can be used to maintain and even increase commitment and performance and thus increase motivation:
- When building a board, align the interests and expectations of board members with the organization. Understand their interest and motivation in serving, and be sure that they understand the challenges and requirements of board service.
- Show appreciation often, in both formal and informal ways. Recognition of board members encourages commitment and high-performance.
- Involve board members in areas where they feel they can use their skills and knowledge and add real value. Make training opportunities available to increase their skills and knowledge.
- Institute an annual board self-evaluation program that allows members to step back and reflect on their own performance as well as that of the group. This can provide feedback on performance and help develop corrective actions.
- Develop individual accountability contracts. Use these contracts to determine strategies for holding board members accountable for attendance, contribution of expertise, willingness to make constructive comments during meetings, etc.
Just a few though to start a thinking process.
Dr Jouko Huju, GMBA Finland
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