Medium 9781626561823

Why Motivating People Doesn't Work . . . and What Does

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Top leadership researcher, consultant, and coach Susan Fowler says stop trying to motivate people! It's frustrating for everyone involved and it just doesn't work. You can't motivate people—they are already motivated but generally in superficial and short-term ways. In this book, Fowler builds upon the latest scientific research on the nature of human motivation to lay out a tested model and course of action that will help leaders guide their people toward the kind of motivation that not only increases productivity and engagement but that gives them a profound sense of purpose and fulfillment.

Fowler argues that leaders still depend on traditional carrot-and-stick techniques because they haven't understood their alternatives and don't know what skills are necessary to apply the new science of motivation. Her Optimal Motivation process shows leaders how to move people away from dependence on external rewards and help them discover how their jobs can meet the deeper psychological needs—for autonomy, relatedness, and competence—that science tells us result in meaningful and sustainable motivation.

Optimal Motivation has been proven in organizations all over the world—Fowler's clients include Microsoft, CVS, NASA, the Catholic Leadership Institute, H&R Block, Mattel, and dozens more. Throughout the book, she illustrates how each step of the process works using real-life examples. Susan Fowler 's book is the groundbreaking answer for leaders who want to get motivation right!

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Introduction: Stop Beating Your People with Carrots

ePub

Are you motivated to read this book? You might find this a silly question given that you are reading it. I agree it is silly but perhaps for a different reason.

Asking if you are motivated raises more questions than answers. What criteria do you use to determine if you are motivated? If I asked you to decide if a colleague of yours is motivated to read this book, how would you reach your conclusion? How do you evaluate another person’s motivation? What does motivation even mean?

For many years, my go-to definition of motivation was simply “the energy to act.” It turns out my definition has the same fatal flaw as the other 102 definitions you can find for motivation.1 Thinking of motivation as having the energy or impetus to act fails to convey the essential nature of human motivation. It does nothing to help you understand the reasons behind the action.

Back to my opening question. Are you motivated to read this book? This is simply the wrong question. What if I asked instead, Why are you motivated to read this book? I might discover that the reason you are reading the book is because you take being a leader seriously and you are struggling with the motivation of a member of your staff. You are hoping this book might shed light on your motivation dilemma. Or I might discover that you are reading this book because the head of your department told you to read it and you’re afraid of what might happen if you don’t. These are two very different reasons for being motivated that generate different qualities of energy. Instead of asking if you are motivated, I need to ask a different question to reveal your reasons for acting.

 

1 The Motivation Dilemma

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Imagine you have the perfect person in mind to recruit and hire as a new employee. Your offer includes the highest salary ever offered to someone in this role. You are authorized to include whatever it takes to motivate this person to work in your organization—signing bonus, moving allowance, transportation, housing, performance bonuses, and a high-status office.

This was the situation facing Larry Lucchino in 2002. His mission: lure Billy Beane, the general manager of the small-market Oakland A’s, to the Boston Red Sox, one of the most storied and prestigious franchises in baseball. Lucchino was impressed with Billy’s innovative ideas about using sabermetrics—a new statistical analysis for recruiting and developing players.

The Red Sox offered Billy what was at the time the highest salary for a GM in baseball’s history. The team enticed him with private jets and other amazing incentives. As you may know from Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game by Michael Lewis or from the hit movie starring Brad Pitt, Billy turned down the historic offer.

 

2 What Motivates People: The Real Story

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Have you ever thought about why you get out of bed in the morning (and stay up)? Why do you jump up enthusiastically on some mornings and drag yourself out of bed on others?

Have you ever wondered what it takes to walk away from the five-hundred-calorie muffin instead of caving in to the temptation?

Have you ever considered how your angry, defensive, or self-righteous energy differs from your loving, compassionate, and joyful energy?

Answers to these questions can be found in the compelling evidence that human beings have an innate tendency and desire to thrive. We want to grow, develop, and be fully functioning. Of course, the science is just catching up to what creative and thoughtful people have understood throughout our existence. Movies such as The Wizard of Oz, Star Wars, and Gravity portray our nature to thrive. Poets such as Kahlil Gibran, Maya Angelou, and Robert Frost have reflected our longing for wholeness. Ancient and modern artists and musicians continue to capture our yearning for self-identity, growth, and a meaningful connection to others. We want to flourish—but we cannot do it alone. We are, by nature, social animals. Striving to reach our individual human potential is natural, yet we innately recognize that the interconnection between ourselves and the world around us is a vital part of that process.

 

3 The Danger of Drive

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Be careful of being driven. If you are driven, who is doing the driving? I heard this old adage many years ago, and ever since, being driven has held a negative connotation for me. I never liked the idea of something or someone outside of myself controlling me. However, it seems my interpretation is a minority opinion. Having a conversation about motivation in the English language without using the word drive is almost impossible. A person with a lot of drive is considered to have a lot of motivation. A person with low drive is considered not to have enough motivation. Inner drive is considered a good thing. On this last point, I could concede, but it depends on the nature of the inner drive. Where are you driving and why?

One of the most popular motivational theories of the past one hundred years is called Drive Theory. It made sense based on the idea that we are motivated to get what we don’t have. If you are thirsty, you are driven to drink; if you are hungry, you are driven to eat. The pervasive use of Drive Theory paved the way to an acceptance of driving for results, driving for success, and driving performance. The problem with Drive Theory as a general theory of motivation is that after you drink or eat, your need is satiated and you are no longer driven to drink or eat until your body is deficient again. Now we are beginning to grasp the real costs of driving.

 

4 Motivation Is a Skill

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Years ago, I met with Dr. Edward Deci, recognized as the father of and leading researcher in the field of intrinsic motivation. My purpose was to get his reaction to the model and framework my partners, David Facer and Drea Zigarmi, and I had developed to teach motivation as a skill. Revealing our Spectrum of Motivation model, I explained, “We imagine a whole new world at work where every individual accepts responsibility and takes the initiative to activate his or her own optimal motivation. Three skills are required for activating your own positive energy, vitality, and sense of well-being:

Identify your current motivational outlook by recognizing and understanding your sense of well-being and your underlying reasons for doing what you are doing.

Shift to (or maintain) an optimal motivational outlook by using the MVPs of self-regulation to satisfy your psychological needs for ARC.

Reflect by noticing the difference between having a suboptimal motivational outlook and having an optimal motivational outlook.”

 

5 Making Shift Happen

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A colleague of mine manages a high-tech team. She was lamenting an experience trying to motivate a team member who often works from home. The team was growing, office space was tight, and one of the only offices with four walls and a door belonged to this team member. The manager asked the team member if he would give up his rarely used office to another team member who would benefit from the added space and privacy. The second team member’s role required her to come in every day, and working in a cubicle was not conducive to her productivity.

The manager didn’t want to “demotivate” the first team member by demanding he give up his office, but she thought it was a reasonable request, given that he usually worked from home. His response was an unexpected and flat-out rejection. Interestingly, in his refusal to give up his office, he admitted he didn’t feel good about himself and wasn’t proud of his decision, but he justified his stand by explaining that he had earned that space and it was important to his identity, rank, and position within the team.

 

6 Rethinking Five Beliefs That Erode Workplace Motivation

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Motivation is one of the most vital and essential aspects of leadership and one of the most confused and misunderstood. The result of this confusion and misunderstanding is leaders who have become blind to what does and doesn’t work. They engage in counterproductive behaviors believing they are doing the right thing. Leaders are so immersed in five motivation-eroding beliefs that they find it difficult to hear, see, or do something different.

Research over the past sixty years continues to prove the point. Individuals’ rankings of workplace motivators are compared to rankings of what their managers think motivates them. The results reflect how most individuals feel: managers simply do not know what motivates their people. Managers tend to attribute external motivation to employees (actions not within the employees’ control)—such as good wages, promotions, and job security. On the other hand, employees prefer more internal motivation (actions within the employees’ control)—such as interesting work, growth, and learning.1

 

7 The Promise of Optimal Motivation

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Being a leader is a privileged position. What you say, how you say it, and why you say it make a difference in the lives of the people you lead.

David Facer and I ask our executive audiences this question: “What do you want from your people?”

We get immediate and reasonable responses, such as “I want their focus, attention, effort, dedication, and loyalty.” “I want them to meet expectations, make their numbers, achieve their goals, do what I ask of them, and get results.”

Then we ask a follow-up question: “What do you want for your people?”

It’s funny how removing one letter from the question generates blank, dumbfounded stares on most faces. You see skepticism or even cynicism as they sense you are about to discuss some touchy-feely topic. With some prodding, though, the executives come up with what they want for their people: happiness, safety, security, health, fun, a sense of accomplishment, and peace.

We find these answers fascinating. The responses are very similar to the characteristics of positive well-being listed in chapter 4. Executives tend to pursue results by focusing on what they want from people. They have it backwards.

 

Afterword

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I have no doubt that the ideas you have just read will make a difference in the way you lead. But I have an important question: Are you motivated to lead? Ha! I know that is a silly question, so let me ask, Why are you motivated to lead?

I am thoroughly convinced that great leadership comes from the heart—a servant leader’s heart. Servant leadership is impossible when you lead with a suboptimal motivational outlook.

If you lead from the disinterested motivational outlook, you are not leading anyone to anywhere meaningful. If you lead from the external motivational outlook, focused on building organizational assets or your own legacy, you are keeping your eye on the scoreboard and missing the most important part of the game that helps guarantee sustainable success—helping your people flourish. If you lead with an imposed motivational outlook, your misery becomes your people’s misery, which becomes your customer’s misery.

Your optimal motivational outlook, on the other hand, generates a positive ripple effect as long as you don’t allow your own enthusiasm to impose your ideas and values on people. Discuss what you have learned and hope to do differently. If you are a situational leader, have alignment conversations where you and your direct reports agree on their goal. Then facilitate motivational outlook conversations asking the pivotal question, Why are you motivated to achieve this goal? As you have discovered, individuals with a suboptimal motivational outlook while pursuing their goal will have a very different experience than those with an optimal motivational outlook. Equipped with your understanding of people’s motivational outlook, you can provide the appropriate direction and support for them to attain and maintain high-quality competence and commitment.

 

Epilogue: Masters of Motivation

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Think about the best boss you ever had. Who comes to mind? Chances are, whoever comes into your mind had something in common with the leaders profiled in this section: a mindful approach to leadership based on highly developed values and a noble purpose. As you will discover, some of the masters profiled lead instinctively using the ideas in this book, others purposely implemented the ideas, and two of the masters fathered the science at the core of the ideas. Over fifteen years I have witnessed these Masters of Motivation creating workplaces where people flourish and—as a result, seen their customers and metrics flourish as well.

I imagine a decade from now seeing a young, emerging leader reading the fifth edition of this book. My dream is that when that young leader answers the question of who is the best boss he or she ever had, the person who comes to mind will be you. I hope that by applying the ideas outlined in this book, you will become someone’s Master of Motivation.

 

Frequently Asked Questions

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Rewards may not be appropriate, but you might decide they are necessary. For example, the FAA is offering a $10,000 reward to anyone reporting a person pointing lasers at airplanes in flight. The danger posed to pilots, passengers, and people on the ground was too great to ignore. It’s a sad commentary that you would sell out a friend for $10,000. It is even sadder to think that if you knew people were threatening lives using a laser, you wouldn’t either do whatever it took to stop them yourself or voluntarily turn them in because it’s the right thing to do. Rewards are necessary if people don’t have the self-regulation necessary to do the right thing through mindfulness, developed values, or a noble purpose.

As a leader, you are responsible for making sure that people achieve the organization’s goals. But you have the ability to frame those goals—or help people reframe them—so goals are more meaningful and relevant to individuals.

We will never be free of delegated goals and deadlines. However, leaders can present deadlines as necessary and helpful data. Leaders can encourage individuals to consider deadlines as valuable information for allocating time effectively, making thoughtful choices, and determining what a priority is—or is not.

 

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