Stop Trying to Motivate People

Why Motivating People Doesn’t Work

 

People are always motivated. The question is not if, but why they are motivated.

Those two lines immediately stand out in the opening pages of Susan Fowler’s book Why Motivating People Doesn’t Work…and What Does: The New Science of Leading, Energizing, and Engaging.

Do you understand the principles of motivation?

If you do, you will tap into a leadership success shortcut that will help you create an organization that performs above expectations.

Susan Fowler is a senior consulting partner with The Ken Blanchard Companies and a professor at the University of San Diego. Her research into the science of motivation is important for all leaders to understand and employ. I recently asked her about her work.

 

Research: managers do not know what motivates their people.

 

Understand Motivational Differences

You’re an expert on motivation. You say that everyone is motivated, but everyone is motivated differently. Would you share an example of this from your experience?

An important truth emerges when we explore the nature of motivation. People are always motivated. The question is not if, but why they are motivated.

The motivation—or energy and impetus—a person brings to any action can be qualitatively different. Some reasons people are motivated tend to promote well-being for themselves and others—and unfortunately, some reasons don’t.

Motivation that comes from choosing to do something is different from motivation that comes from having to do it.

Motivation generated from values, purpose, love, joy, or compassion is different from motivation generated from ego, power, status, or a desire for external rewards.

Motivation to compete because of a desire to excel (where the score serves as feedback on how successfully you are growing, learning, and executing) is different from competing for the sake of besting someone else, to impress, or gain favors.

One of the primary reasons motivating people doesn’t work is our naïve assumption that motivation is something a person has or doesn’t have. This leads to the erroneous conclusion that the more motivation a person has, the more likely she will achieve her goals and be successful. When it comes to motivation, it is too simplistic and even unwise to assume that more is better. As with friends, it isn’t how many friends you have, it is the quality and types of friendships that matter.

Imagine you are a sales manager. You wonder if your sales reps are motivated. You look at the mid-quarter sales reports for your two highest selling reps and conclude, yes, they are both highly motivated. What you might fail to notice is that they are motivated differently. The reason one rep works hard is to win the sales contest, be seen as number one, and to make the promised bonus. The reason the other rep works hard is because he values your products and services, his efforts are connected to a noble purpose, and he enjoys problem solving with his clients. The science of motivation provides compelling evidence that there are major implications for the reps’ different types of motivation. The quality of their energy affects short-term results and long-term stamina.

 

“A great irony of leadership is that motivating your people doesn’t work because people are already motivated.” -Susan Fowler

 

Uncover an Individual’s Motivation

How do you uncover someone’s motivation?

Managers can guide people through a conversation that helps individuals explore their feelings related to their task, goal, or situation and reveals their current motivational outlook.

Do they have a negative or positive sense of well-being? Listen to clues in their language; watch their non-verbal body language. (Do they use phrases such as, I have to or I get to? Do they appear defeated, defiant, and defensive or inspired and joyful?)

Is the individual experiencing low or high quality of psychological needs? (Does this person feel in control and recognize they have choices, feel supported and have a sense of purpose regarding the situation, and feel they have the ability to navigate the challenges posed by the situation?)

Is the individual demonstrating low- or high-quality self-regulation? (Is this person mindful, making a values-based decision, or linking the situation to a higher purpose?)

Is the individual’s motivational outlook suboptimal (disinterested, external, or imposed) or optimal (aligned, integrated, or inherent)?

 

Leadership Tip: Help your people find meaning and contribute to a social purpose.

 

What has the science of new motivation uncovered in recent years?