Motivating staff for higher productivity -the Managing Think Tanks series

11 March 2013

How to motivate staff ranked first in a survey conducted in 2001 by the Urban Institute. Think tanks in nine countries of Eastern Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States most want this issue to be addressed in a training session; leaders of other think tanks in the region also want to better confront management issues. Staff motivation problems can certainly affect an organisation’s operations by causing low productivity and high staff turnover.

This week’s chapter summary of Managing Think Tanks deals with issues such as compensation, working conditions, non monetary rewards for good work and the staff assessment system used, which are important in order to ensure good management. It offers practices generally recommended in human resources management literature, and contrasts these practices with those of six think tanks from the former Soviet bloc.

Sample think tanks have addressed the multiple issues of staff motivation with considerable imagination. There are numerous differences, however, from accepted “good practices” used in the West in this field. To some extent the differences may result from what might be termed cultural differences (i.e., a somewhat different perspective among Eastern European organizations on how staff will respond to various measures and a preference for a comparatively informal management style).

Most importantly, personnel practices seem to have stemmed from think tank directors’ intuition rather than from exposure to accepted practices.

So what are good practices for motivating think tank staff?

1. Setting expectations

Researchers perform well when they know what is expected of them. This is particularly important when an analysts joins the organisation, and at the time of the annual. Obviously, supervisors have to clearly define performance expectations before communicating them to the staff. These can be fairly summary in nature—a few bullet points. They should be in writing and should be discussed with the analyst to be certain that there is a common understanding of their meaning.

2. Rewards

Motivation factors should be based on the job – staff are given more responsibility in the organisation and thus the job is made more motivating. The following can be considered sources of motivation for an analyst’s job:

  • Achievement
  • Recognition of achievement
  • Interesting work content
  • Opportunity for growth and advancement
  • A competitive salary (this is an extrinsic factor).

3. . Performance evaluation

A good performance evaluation system is one that is used mainly as the basis for discussion between the supervisor and the employee regarding the employee’s record of achievement, the suitability of the employee’s goals for the future, and a plan for how the supervisor and organization can help the employee achieve the new goals. It is critical to produce information that serves as the basis for rewards and that helps develop a program to assist staff with professional development.

4. Training

Staff training can be done in two ways, always identifying training needs through an analysis of organisational needs and personal assessments. In the first way, staff skills are improved so employees can perform better at their jobs. In the second, training is geared more towards increasing the human capital of the staff member, not generally applicable to current or future assignments at the organisation. A training program, of course, needs to be budgeted and planned.

The practices of the six think tanks assessed were not completely in line with the recommendations above. Only three had staff assessment systems, rewards were underused, and there was low priority on training programs in three of the organisations. Nonetheless, there were a diverse and high number of compensation schemes. Interestingly, the directors of these think tanks believed that most of their practices are well suited to their organisations. They also placed great importance on having an informal work atmosphere and a feeling of collegiality.