Monday, March 30, 2015

Motivating Others - No Magic Pill

Wanting something is not enough.  I may 'want' to lose 10 pounds, but without the motivation to take action on that desire I will not lose a pound, let alone the 10.  When you consider how much we struggle with motivating ourselves to take action is it any wonder that one of the biggest challenges that managers face is in motivating their people?

Unfortunately, everyone is looking for a quick fix answer, a single motivating methodology that will work equally well with everyone.  In many respects this is indicative of how leaders sought to motivate their people in the past, typically using either the 'Carrot' or the 'Stick' approach.

The Carrot

In essence, the carrot approach is based on a system of rewards, the provision of some extrinsic element that will serve to raise productivity and drive performance.  This may be seen through the use of formal bonus for performance programs or even with more informal 'gifting' of sports tickets, gift cards, paid time off, prime parking spaces etc.

Interestingly though, studies on the use of money as an incentive have found that it is effective only when reinforcing mechanical skills.  Here higher pay led to better performance.  However, when the task called for cognitive skills financial bonuses actually worked the opposite, with higher pay leading to poorer performance. Eventually, most managers ultimately tend to find that the benefits of carrots are short-lived requiring more frequent and 'bigger' carrots be provided, typically for reducing returns.

The Stick

Others have attempted to motivate more out of fear, using a negative form of reinforcement; fear of failure, fear of losing money, fear of losing their job.  As much as some may feel that 'the stick' creates immediate action and responses, it is rarely seen to deliver top performance and typically induces additional debilitating results (such as stress).

No One-Size-Fits-All Approach

As much as both the carrot and stick have been used frequently in the past, and continue to be used today, research supports the view that Motivation happens one person at a time.  There is no magical approach that works equally well with all, no one-size-fits-all approach.  Instead, you need to uncover the inner motivation of each member.  Understanding the personality style and preferences of individual contributors will tell you a lot about what motivates each.

  • Some want the opportunity to contribute
  • Others want the freedom to choose 'How' to contribute
  • Some want the exposure and recognition that contributing may bring them
  • Others want the respect of others for their contributions
Each perspective is valid and each represents something different that is valued. 

Ability is what you're capable of doing.  Motivation determines what you do.  Attitude determines how well you do it.       Lou Holtz
Finding out what drives the behaviours of others, what their personality preferences are, allows you to tap into their personal motivators.  Those who are more Competitive will tend to like to win, while those who are more Cooperative will be more motivated by an opportunity to affect the 'Greater Good'.  Those who are more Innovative will love the opportunity to work on a new start up project or venture, while those who are more Conventional will be more motivated to work on a project that is in support of strengthening existing processes.
Motivation happens one person at a time
The better you are at creating an environment and working climate that taps into what already motivates people the more satisfied, happier and appreciative will be your team.  Given that we are more productive when we are feeling good, the benefit to the organization is an increase in productivity.  There may not be a Motivational Magic Pill, but you can create some magic none-the-less!

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