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The Right People in the Right Place at the Right Time

Not all motivations are the same. Corporal Dylan Williamson demonstrates the importance for supervisors, and the Australian Defence Force as a whole, in understanding the differences between intrinsic and extrinsic motivations. Having these motivations balanced correctly helps develop personnel, which in turn benefits the organisation. Motivation is also linked to retention, ensuring the organisation can continue forward supported by driven and experienced members. The process of selecting and nurturing personnel for the appropriate role begins at recruitment. However, as Williamson explains, it is a career long endeavour for leaders at every level to maintain a motivating environment.

On the back of the release of the 2020 #AFSTRAT, there have been several posts highlighting the need for creativity within the workforce. Such posts attest that with increased creativity producing an accelerated Observe Orientate Decide Act (OODA) loop, the fighting force will likely have an intellectual and competitive edge. This presents as a plausible argument however, overlooks one of the biggest variables within our organisation: individual motivations. As any supervisor can attest to, giving the same task to two individuals with identical training and experience does not always result in the same outcome - for either efficiency or accuracy. This is common within the technical workforce, and can result in a requirement to balance the “good” technicians between teams to spread their effectiveness on exercises, or to stack efficient workers on one crew when something is high priority.

For an organisation to thrive, it must fully understand why this behaviour occurs. One potential reason has to do with how the individual views their role and purpose, and what their motivations are. Someone who treats their role as ‘day job’ versus a long-term career may produce different outcomes. The ‘day job’ worker approaches their day with the mentality of needing to meet a number of tasks which are to be endured in order to go home. They have little interest in achieving anything outside of what is the minimum required. Their behaviour and output may present as inefficient as they look to stretch out a task until the end of the workday in a behaviour referred to as socially loafing. These workers may simply have different motivations, and may not desire to stretch themselves to achieve more unless the reward is worth it. The second type of worker views their role and purpose with the lens of a long-term career. These individuals approach the workday with the mentality of how much can be achieved with the time they have. These individuals are likely to be goal orientated . In order to increase both efficiency and accuracy across the workforce, Air Force should be selective when it comes to motives in recruiting and retaining people for particular roles, as people are the foundation and key to any strategic plan.

Motivation types

One reason for these two widely different role perspectives may be individual motivations; commonly known as intrinsic and extrinsic motivators. The individual that treats their role as a ‘day job’ may be more extrinsically motivated. Extrinsically motivated individuals are commonly motivated by money or other material objects. Intrinsically motivated individuals are motivated by internal factors. Typically the kinds of things that motivate these individuals may not seem motivating to others, but to the individual, they are significant. For example; successfully fixing an ongoing aircraft maintenance fault, running a marathon or having a piece of writing published.

Recruitment and Retention

Identifying the right type of individual in the recruitment phase is the first step in having a motivated, creative workforce to aid in increasing the speed of the organisation’s OODA loop. Recruiting the right people with the right type of motivation which best suit their primary role will assist this process. Specifically, identifying someone with aligned role motivations makes managing motivation easier for supervisors; whether that be intrinsic or extrinsic. While identifying motivations in recruitment may assist initially, motives for remaining within Defence can change. Therefore, our organisation needs to continue to support supervisors in understanding how they can adapt to motivating a changing workforce.

The importance of recognition

One example of how Air Force can retain personnel who are intrinsically motivated is through recognition – of both big and small achievements. When a supervisor, manager or commander takes the time and effort to acknowledge even the small achievements, the individual experiences the neurobiological benefits of intrinsic motivation. Having a Senior Non-commissioned Officer (SNCO) provide a meaningful compliment to their team at a progress point, it can be highly beneficial in maintaining motivation. In this case, it is important to utilise intrinsic motivation as extrinsic reward is not always possible. Another way this can occur is to have individuals create their own ‘to do’ lists and bask in their own satisfaction when they cross something off their list.

Rewarding intrinsically motivated personnel needs to be tailored. This means providing something of significance to the specific individual. One such example could be to provide exercise time. If an intrinsically motivated individual wants to exercise over their lunch break, make it happen. If this means giving them a little extra time for lunch then so be it. The productivity gained by these individuals conducting their chosen activity over lunch is likely to outweigh the additional time provided to eat. Furthermore, the organisation would be aiding these individuals by providing the opportunities to chase one of their personal goals during their lunch break which, in turn, generates greater organisational satisfaction. The alternative is for the individual to perceive the organisation as preventing the progression of a personal goal. This is only an example and each case would need to be tailored to the individual by their supervisor.

Provide a sense of purpose

On the whole, humans live and work through creating meaning. When supervisors, managers, and commanders take the small effort to provide the ‘why’, significant outcomes will be produced. At a flying squadron, one such example may be an executive providing a detailed and specific brief to the workforce about the purpose of the exercise they are about to conduct. Such a brief needs to provide more than just the pre-deployment exercise overview – it needs to contain the purpose. Explaining ‘why’ these missions need to be flown, what they achieve for the organisation as a whole, and how these missions play a role in a real-world scenario is critical to motivation.

The right people produce creativity

Recruiting the right kinds of people with the right motivation, and placing them in the right role at the right time, is a key prerequisite for cultivating creativity. As the right people build greater experience and knowledge, and are supported correctly with either intrinsic or extrinsic aligned motivations, they are more likely to tackle new problems and adapt to new ideas and environments. They will further build greater confidence to offer ideas that may seem out of the ordinary or non-conventional. They will have the experience to break down ideas that didn’t work to identify why in order to come up with a way to address them. But most importantly, they will build the awareness to identify when something is a problem when it may not be obvious. This awareness directly contributes to the OODA loop of their workforce. Air Force strategy relies on people to achieve strategic goals. Therefore, recruiting and retaining the right kinds of people for the right job is essential to achieve any broader strategy.

Corporal Dylan Williamson has spent 13 years in the Air Force as an Armament Technician. Having posted around Hornet Squadrons for his career, he is now posted to 77 Squadron during the first stages of standing F-35 maintenance. CPL Williamson has a Bachelor of Psychological Sciences, and has recently commenced postgraduate studies. He is motivated to strive for ways to improve his squadron’s workforce. The views expressed are his alone and do not reflect the opinion of the Royal Australian Air Force, the Department of Defence, or the Australian Government.


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