Making The Most of Your Resources

Among the many roles of the nursing manager is that of motivator.  The individual professional certainly bears the major responsibility for his/her own motivation and career development, and career guidance specialists can provide technical assistance at crucial turning points within an individual’s career.  However, the departmental manager also has the opportunity to influence the motivation and continued development of his/her employees.

Particularly skilled managers develop an ability to sense the evolving motivational needs of individual employees.  Some develop an uncanny ability to create opportunities for growth, expression of creativity, and/or leadership.  Training projects, internal research, rotational leadership models, community outreach, professional association activity, in-house committees, internship programs, and authorship of articles are several projects that nursing managers utilize to address the service needs of the hospital and the motivational needs of the individual nursing professionals simultaneously.

Resources, especially time, are limited and some professionals choose to use promotion as their primary, if not only, motivator.  What can a manger do when promotion potential is very limited and resources for other opportunities are also very limited?

The bad news about the situation described here is that circumstances are very normal.  Can you think of a nursing department in which the lack of promotional opportunities is not an issue, or one in which the manager has enough time, money, power, and access to create opportunities?  The good news may be hidden opportunities for employee motivation.  The challenging news is that nursing managers may need to learn a new way of hearing complaints and of thinking about their circumstances.

To begin, managers need to think of their circumstances in organizational terms.  Jay Galbraith has identified five major categories of organizational functioning that are helpful to managers as they learn about the broader context of their work.  The categories include:

  • Task, which refers to the type of industry, product, or service line of a particular company.
  • Structure, which refers to the manner in which responsibility and authority is distributed within the company.  Typically, the organizational chart is the best representation of a company’s intended structure.
  • People, which refers to the employees at all levels, personalities, shills, styles, and values.
  • Process, which refers to how things are done, including workflow, communication, timing, cooperation, and coordination.
  • Reward, refers to motivational and incentive issues and programs including promotion, wages, and benefits.

We have found that two additional categories of organizational functioning are helpful to managers when they are seeking expanded options and understanding of the context of their work.

  • External environment refers to the customer base (patients, in the case of hospitals), potential markets, political forces, the economy, and cultural factors.
  • Internal Environment or climate refers to the style or personality of the organization.  The composite styles and emphasis of an organization’s employees creates an ever-changing climate that is unique to the organization.

Motivational opportunities often lie dormant within the components of the organization.  The clues that provide hints for solutions lie within the concerns and complaints of individual employees.  When a nursing professional focuses on promotional opportunities as his/her primary motivator, the manager can be relatively certain that rewards are important components of organizational life to that particular individual.

Occasionally, a manager can address a disappointed employee’s motivational needs within the same organizational category.  An employee with limited promotion potential may respond to merit raises, benefit packages, title changes, assignment to pet projects, increased power or authority, or a more flexible work schedule.  These are all options within the same organizational category.

Typically, however, an employee will not respond to substitution within the same organizational category as his/her expressed complaint.  Realistically, a manager has limited power and influence over many of the potential rewards.  Few managers can adjust salaries, benefits, or even work schedules in response to employee motivational needs.

People are not one-dimensional.  Although an individual employee may seem to be focused only on promotion or salary, he or she also is providing information about his/her other concerns.  Employees provide subtle hints through their avoidance of certain tasks, through complaints and suggestions, through denial or blame, and through procrastination or non-learning.  Often an employee who is disappointed by non-promotion will become overly focused on interpersonal relationships, or critical of the manager who “blocks” his/her promotion possibilities.

The people category is frequently one of the other important organizational components to an employee with promotion aspirations.  Occasionally, a manager can address the motivational needs of a disappointed professional successfully by adjusting the person’s shift or changing the team to which the individual is assigned.

On an average, three of the seven organizational components are motivational, or very important, to an individual employee at any given point in his/her development.  Employees and careers are not static.  Structure becomes increasingly important to professionals as they enter supervisory-and managerial-level roles.  As a manager listens to and observes an employee, two of the three important components are usually easy to identify.  The identification of the third is very important to the manager’s capacity to respond to the employee’s motivational needs and to bring to the surface otherwise hidden opportunities.

When an employee is frustrated, he/she may not be able to articulate the deeper levels or seemingly unrelated aspects of his/her concerns.  The search for the third and most important organizational component can feel like a walk through a maze or the search for a needle in a haystack.  Both the manager and the employee may become frustrated in their mutual attempts to find options, ideas, and answers.  The frustration may lead to the erroneous conclusions that no progress is being made, that time is being wasted, or that no options exist.  What often is heard:

  • “The employee is unrealistic.  He/she will just have to grow up and learn that he/she cannot always have what he/she wants.”
  • “The manager does not really care.  Employees are not important to her/him anyway.  Why bother?”

Reaching these conclusions is understandable, but it is premature in most instances.  Either the manager or the employee can stop the tendency to draw negative conclusion and begin a renewed search for options within the remaining five categories of organizational life.  Each person potentially can admit that he/she has been stopped, has run out of ideas temporarily, or has come to premature conclusions.

When the search for information about what motivates the individual employee resumes, the manager may expect most employees to have continued difficulty.  If the employee had a current sense of alternative options, limited promotion would not have become the object of narrowing focus.  As the manager/employee team scans the remaining five categories for ideas, the manager has many opportunities to reassure the employee and provide information about realistic parameters.  The employee has many opportunities to express interest in projects that appear, superficially, to be unrelated to his/her primary function.

Many managers need to take a few moments to reflect on the opportunities that exist within the various categories of organizational life prior to their combined search for information about the employee’s comments and help analyze the patterns that surface as the individual speaks.

Some organizations encourage the development of only a few options within each category leaving the manager feeling rather powerless.  If the manager thinks about the purpose of each category rather than about the motivational opportunities that has been identified already or is in use, the potential for creativity increases and the sense of powerlessness diminishes.

For example, many hospitals have employee involvement groups or quality circles.  An employee who has interests or motivational needs related to internal climate may be a candidate for those existing committees.  However, he/she may be capable also of specific innovation related to employee morale or a candidate for coursework on managerial style, compatibility and consistency.

Some hospitals already have a speaker’s bureau that could provide the basis of some of the task, external environment, or people needs of an individual employee, but the development of a new topic for the speaker’s bureau could address additional needs as well.  An employee who had wanted a promotion may, at first, have difficulty handling his/her own sense of embarrassment or perceived lack of success when it does not come.  If the motivational concept was developed as a manager/employee team, the professional will at least have the support of his/her superior, which can be very helpful during stressful times.

As the motivational concept progresses, the manager and employee can address issues related to the other two organizational categories pertinent to the employee.  Timing is important.  An employee may not be receptive to a manager’s well-intentioned attempts to solve problems in the two most sensitive categories.  Later, after a motivational concept from within a third category has been recognized, the manager and the employee both may be more capable of discussing primary issues.

Direct discussion of limited promotion potential (rewards) or difficulty working with the manager who blocks the person’s advancement (people) could be perceived as a confrontation when the employee is in the midst of personal/professional disappointment, but the needs and issues are real.

Once some progress has been made through the use of another category, problem solving about motivational needs related to rewards and people can resume.  Legitimate short and moderate motivational opportunities can be found within one of the five other organizational categories.  The employee may have only a slight interest in the concept as it begins, but the passage of time and consistency of approach will help to allay resistance.

Growth Strategy Tip


You knocked it out of the park. Your keynote was amazing. During our wrap up of “Miracle Moments” you were quoted by at least five different people as having an impact on their practice.

Gayle Carson, CSP CMC
Co-chair GROW! 2013 The Management Conference for Consultants organized by the IMC

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