Thanks to Ann Iverson for linking up this classic McKinsey article about customer experience. We are reminded that you can manage your company culture and incentives, but you cannot actually motivate people--they decide to act based on their motivation. All you can do is set the stage for them.
When your organizing your team, you have to anticipate a range of good and bad motivations, plan your own reactions, make some announcements, and consider the messages your own actions are sending. Incentives should allow you to elevate some people as role models without generating too much negative competition. It's one of the hardest jobs we have to do as leaders.
McKinsey.com: The Moment of Truth in Customer Service, 2006-Feb by Marc Beaujean, Jonathan Davidson and Stacey Madge
As everyone knows, a range of motives drives human beings: from the purely selfish (fear and greed) to the more creative, altruistic, and personally fulfilling (problem solving, artistic excellence, service to others). Great customer service companies are invariably good at allowing people to discover their motivations themselves. After all, these companies know that most frontline employees actually want to help customers and to gain their goodwill. The trick is to allow these employees to express this urge while simultaneously restraining their selfish motives, which experience suggests are incompatible with good behavior at moments of truth.
"People will work hard when they are given the freedom to do the job the way they think it should be done, when they treat customers the way they like to be treated," observed Jim Nordstrom, the former copresident of Nordstrom. "When you take away their incentive and start giving them rules, boom, you've killed their creativity."