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Think about when you were a child! What motivated you to do things? Or better yet “Who” motivated you? From childhood to adulthood, the motivational forces in our lives change from external forces, such as our parent’s (family) threats or pleas to more personal “need based” motives such as economics (pay) or even a sense of “self worth” by what or how we see ourselves as contributing to society.

This is a long way from “do it or else” push coming from your parents, to a more developed, and mature attitude of: “I want to feel as though I am of some value to society - I want to be a productive element.” Whatever the driving motivational forces are, it is always a challenge to identify and maintain an environment in business that keeps one motivated and productive.

For Native Americans, key motivational factors can vary from person to person, however in many cases our motivational elements do not always fall in line with what the general American business culture promotes.

Consider that most American employees are motivated through monetary rewards. Capitalism is the economic foundation in which America was built, so why not encourage this in the workplace? Native Americans may be a little more reluctant about engaging in capitalism when it means compromising their values or more specifically, values associated with culture and spiritualism. In the workplace, this can present a problem for organizations that are merit based through monetary incentives.

Another key motivational factor in the American workplace is competitiveness. We are encouraged to develop a “need to win” attitude in the workplace. Managers often use competition to promote individual productivity among employees. Individualism is quickly rewarded in American business culture. There have been efforts throughout the evolution of American management practice, where “team building” was the focus, which is more conducive to Native culture, however, the team concept is not always used to its full benefit. To be most effective, the promotion of cohesive workgroups would require a long-term commitment from management and is usually not the case.

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Our values play a large part in what type of work behavior we develop and how we are motivated to do our jobs. As Natives, most of us share similar values, such as respect, honor and culture; however, we are still individuals. Our personal value systems might include; education, success and recognition. We develop our personal work character and act on different motivational forces that are based on many things, including our needs, our goals, and our understanding and acceptance as productive work members. In most cases our values will dictate our behavior both inside and outside the workplace.

In the management fields there are many theories that outline human motivation and work behavior, yet it is one of the least addressed elements in business. It is taken for granted that employees should always be self motivated to work hard. When problems do arise, it is often addressed with coercion or negative reaction, such as threats and disciplinary measures. It is a long-time practice and a common problem in most workplaces.

Managers don’t often recognize how they may play a role in work behavior. They also fail to consider more positive ways to encourage and develop productive work behavior throughout their business or organization. Modern workforces are more educated and as Natives our values of respect and honor remain a strong part of who we are. It is important to consider that Native workforces may be best motivated when they are valued and respected for their work and their work outcome. Understanding and incorporating this into daily practice is one of the keys to successful management in any environment.

The best strategy for motivating employees and promoting productivity is to remember: We all work best when we are valued and appreciated for our work. Criticism suppresses work behavior. Employees will be reluctant if they don’t feel confident about their work. We must learn to respect employees as individuals, this will encourage integrity in organizational behavior. Many managers develop authoritative attitudes towards their employees, they may attempt to use the same “do it or else” approach a parent would use. However, strong managerial control can cause employees to lose some of their accountability because their work behavior and job duties are dictated to them by someone else.

Under the right circumstance (job satisfaction, confidence, skill development and good management) employees will maintain a highly productive existence. Productiveness in the Native work environment should be all of our responsibility, as managers, as business owners, as leaders and as employees. We will all reap the benefits of productive businesses and effective organizations. We must value not only the jobs, our roles in the successful organizations, but the larger outcome of healthy, vibrant Native nations and communities.

Lucinda Hughes-Juan has many years of teaching and training in the fields of business and management, with a focus on the cultural dynamics in Native businesses and organizations. She is an enrolled member of the Tohono O’odham Nation. She holds an MBA in global management, and is currently a Ph.D. candidate in business and organizational management. E-mail her at