What motivates you? If you’re a manager, perhaps the more important question is what motivates those you work with?
For a few centuries now, the world has behaved as if carrots and sticks were our only alternatives. Reward the good; punish the bad. If the bad don’t get better punish them more. Motivation is the “hot” topic now, especially given the tough times we’re in. Harvard professor Teresa Amabile offers new insights in a study summarized in the Jan. -Feb. Harvard Business Review. Daniel Pink writes a whole book about motivation, “Drive,” that came out this month.
Amabile says that, above everything else, people are motivated by progress. If people see forward movement, sense they are accomplishing something and can see tangible results, they are more likely to be engaged in their work.
Pink’s survey of “motivation research” gives a more nuanced lay of the land. From his consultant’s perch, Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose are the motivators of good work. In short, people want to control their lives, get good at something and be part of a group that has a greater mission than just making a profit.
The timing of these works is both wonderful and problematic. As we criss-cross the nation, autonomy, mastery and purpose are not what we hear about. Survival is the motivation we hear most. “Purpose?” a client responded. “Surviving the next quarter, that should be purpose enough!”
The problem with survival is that sooner, rather than later, it becomes an excuse for “just good enough.” Often, your ability to “juggle” is mistaken for progress. The survival phase often lasts so long the future never arrives.
Here are some tips for clearing the motivation hurdles we see in workplaces today:
• Juggling is not a long-term skill. As employees take on more, there is a sense they are working hardest at juggling responsibilities rather than completing tasks. As one mid-level manager with a manufacturing client told us, “I feel like all my projects are perpetually 70 percent finished. I really just want the time to complete one of them.” Managers need to work with employees to define the new current state as quickly as possible. The Reptilian Brain needs a sense of structure and order to allow us access to the problem-solving parts of our brain.
• Delay is not better than being wrong. There is so much more information available to “help” us make decisions that, in practice, people are overwhelmed and afraid of making bad decisions. The result is decision creep or paralysis. “It is so easy to find alternative viewpoints and to second-guess yourself,” an internet company manager told us. “They tell us we shouldn’t be afraid of failure, but who really believes that?” In this economy, waiting often means losing customers and opportunity. Leaders must provide the editing necessary for good decisions and set the example of nimbleness. Don’t be afraid to correct yourself when you find there is a better course of action. It shows that being wrong is not a permanent state.
• Winning is not the ultimate goal. Solving problems is the ultimate goal. After a few thousand years of binary thinking, we’re moving quickly into a cognitive age which defies defining progress as “right” and “wrong,” “left” and “right.” Despite the blind allegiance of media and politics to an Us vs. Them mentality, the companies and countries that are succeeding do so by focusing on finding answers for multiple customers and stakeholders. The more binary your company’s position, the more likely you will lose in the coming decade. A classic example is the American Auto Industry, which spent decades defeating the unions in court and in the workplace and yet solved almost none of its problems.
What motivation road blocks do you experience? How would you advise people to avoid them or remove them?