Creating high performance through job satisfaction

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Do you like your job? Do your Airmen like their jobs? If you answered no, why? How you answer those questions can say a lot about your organization. Believe it or not, you can create a better workplace for your Airmen.

At the bare basics, think about what people need and want from a job. Abraham Maslow’s book “A Theory of Human Motivation,” tells us that each person has a hierarchy of needs: physiological, security, belongingness, esteem and ultimately self-actualization needs. Money is a prime motivator to work, but job satisfaction requires much more. It requires a job that creates belongingness, esteem and self-actualization. It requires opportunities for growth, advancement and achievement.

This is where you, the leader, come into play. A primary goal of leadership is to influence the performance of followers to accomplish a goal. That’s easy to say, but putting it into practice can be convoluted and confusing. Performance is the product of ability and effort. If the ability is low, it is unlikely any amount of effort will result in high performance. Likewise, if the effort is low, high performance is doubtful. If your team’s performance is low, you must ask which area is lacking: ability or effort. We assume your people are properly trained such that the question becomes, “How do I influence my people to put in more effort?”

Everyone has personal goals and every organization has goals for mission success. To influence people to put in more effort, one approach is to align people’s personal goals with the goals of the organization. If your organizational goal is to complete paperwork with zero errors, and you have an Airman whose goal is to be off an hour early next Friday, you can align the personal goal with the organizational goal. This is one way to achieve external motivation, but our focus is on creating internal motivation – creating high performance through job satisfaction.

American psychologist Frederick Herzberg found that job dissatisfaction and job satisfaction are not related. The factors that lead to dissatisfaction are not the same as those that lead to satisfaction.

Hygiene factors leading to job dissatisfaction are: policy and administration, supervision, relationship with supervisor, work conditions, salary, relationship with peers, personal life, relationship with subordinates, status and security.

Motivator factors leading to job satisfaction are: achievement, recognition, the work itself, responsibility, advancement and growth.

While these lists certainly aren’t all-inclusive, it points out a very important concept, keeping “hygiene factors” in check is important to keep people from becoming dissatisfied, but you will not create satisfaction and motivation by focusing all of your attention there. People find true job satisfaction when their need for self-actualization is fulfilled — when you provide them with opportunities that lead to achievement, recognition, increased responsibility, advancement and growth.

Creating genuine opportunities takes intentional planning. In my career field, Missile Operations, I found that a good place to start is by changing the way authority is delegated.

Some of my crew commanders have taken care of the “commander roles” such as delivering the mission planning brief, making tactical decisions in simulator training and taking care of the administrative duties. That left me feeling like my only job was to be a second set of hands to launch ICBMs. Given that the U.S. has never launched an alert ICBM, my job was pretty minimal.

You might be thinking, “Wow, what an easy job! How can you complain?” You’re not wrong — it was easy. My “hygiene factors” were in check, but I had zero factors leading to satisfaction. I didn’t hate the job, but it wasn’t motivating.

Other commanders afforded me the opportunity to deliver the mission brief, make decisions, and fill out paperwork and awards packages. Those times made me feel important. When I delivered briefings I gained public speaking skills and was recognized at the table. When I made tactical decisions and guided my crew through the mission, I felt accomplished. When I learned how to fill out officer performance reports and awards packages, I gained an important career skill and grew as an Airman.

Those commanders, by delegating authority and responsibility to the lowest level, created factors that fulfilled my needs that the paycheck alone could not. Their leadership created job satisfaction that directly impacted my performance. I was taught how to fulfill the roles of the commander as a deputy, and I can pay it forward for my deputies. This gives me opportunities to develop and help my subordinates grow, further adding to my sense of accomplishment and satisfaction.

What can you do as a leader to give Airmen recognition, responsibility, advancement, or personal and professional growth? The answer to this question can change your answer to my first question.