by Rob Marchalonis.

Good ideas either fly or flop based on the motivation of the participants. That’s what I’ve learned, and others seem to agree.  Motivated employees embrace better ideas and run with them.  When the participants are un-motivated, even the best ideas don’t get very far in a workplace.  Having personal experience with both outcomes, and significant frustration with the latter, I committed years ago to learn more about employee motivation, especially for hourly workers.

Hourly work-groups present unique challenges.  I regularly work with diverse operations teams that make products in factories, work at external job sites, provide field service, or staff offices.  The motivation of these employees is obviously critical to the success of the businesses they work for.  Often times they do their jobs apart, away, and unnoticed by others, including their supervisors and the owners of their businesses.  They have a large degree of freedom, which I generally believe is a good thing, but which also requires an enormous amount of focus and self-motivation.  How do the best performers keep these employees on task?

Motivation benchmark.  One approach I’ve used to understand how good businesses achieve great results is benchmarking.  By benchmarking I mean identifying known peak performers and finding ways to gain knowledge and inspiration from them.  A favorite benchmark of mine is Toyota, and specifically the methods that this Japanese company uses to effectively and efficiently produce vehicles.  Toyota’s operational systems are so well refined and respected, they’ve actually earned a name known as the Toyota Production System or TPS.  Toyota manufactures vehicles, warehouses parts, and provides service in some of the most advanced facilities in the world.  Their methods and philosophy have launched them from a small automotive underdog in the 1930’s to the most profitable car company on the planet.  Today, Toyota generates about twice as much profit as its nearest rival, Daimler AG, and earns well above its American competitors.

Several years ago I had the opportunity to get an inside tour of Toyota’s Georgetown, KY factory, the largest of the company’s vehicle plants outside of Japan.  At this facility, with 1,300 acres and over 8.1 million sq. feet under roof (169 football fields), about 8,000 Toyota employees can produce about 2,000 vehicles per day.  To observers, this looks like a new Camry, Avalon, or Lexus rolling off the production line every 45 seconds or so.  Each with as many as 30,000 component parts!

Toyota is Lean. The Toyota Production System is more commonly known as Lean, Lean manufacturing, or Lean enterprise.  Recent work I’ve been doing with clients related to Lean has prompted me to revisit Toyota’s methods and their origin.  I’ve been specifically interested in how Lean and team motivation work together. One of the best resources I’ve found on the subject, partly due to its concise presentation, is a book called The Toyota Way, by Jeffrey K. Liker.  Mr. Liker compiled 20 years of research, interviews, and observations at Toyota facilities and with Toyota employees worldwide.  His resultant 330 page book captures the essence of Toyota’s culture, methodology, and so much more.

Toyota’s approach to motivation.  Like with most things, Toyota is very deliberate about understanding their employees, caring for them, and keeping them motivated.  This approach includes understanding several classic motivation theories and how they can be considered for positive use toward productive outcomes.  The following summarizes five motivation theories described in The Toyota Way:

  1. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs
  2. Herzberg’s Job Enrichment Factors
  3. Taylor’s Scientific Management
  4. Behavior Modification
  5. Locke’s Goal Theory

Learn about each of the motivation theories studied by Toyota, and more, in the next blog post, Motivating Hourly Workers (Part 2)!

Rob Marchalonis is the founder of IncentShare and author of IncentShare: Motivate, Recruit, and Get Results with Incentives, now available at Amazon. Connect with him at