By Amber Barnes
Motivation is one of those topics that influences a lot in the workplace including: organization design, human resources, policy and procedure, and leadership. The problem isn’t the application of motivation, but rather what people have come to understand about motivation.
As a people and culture developer, I feel responsible for speaking truth to bullsh**. If I don’t, then it’s really challenging to create long-term sustainable change in the workplace. A key strategy has been learning the difference between good research and pseudo research. When it comes to motivation, most of us are operating under the influence of the latter.
Someone who’s crushing it with good research is Susan Fowler. I’ve been studying hers and others work for the past six years or so. These are what I think are the three must-knows about motivation:
1. We’re asking the wrong question. We keep asking “Are they motivated?” instead of “Why are they motivated?” Susan’s work debunks the myth that people are either motivated or they’re not. Research shows that people are always motivated, so it’s about why, not if. People are either motivated to do something or motivated not to do something.
For example, when an employee isn’t getting a report done, clarifying the why and then partnering to either find a more meaningful why or look at alternatives is way more effective than deciding they aren’t motivated.
2. We’re holding leaders accountable for something they cannot do which is to “motivate” people. What leaders can do is learn the skill of motivation (which involves questions that help people shift their motivational outlook), and learn how to create workplaces that foster choice, connection and competence.
For example, teach managers the skills to inquire about why an employee wants to do or not do something. This will help leaders undercover the employee’s current motivational outlook. Once that’s clear, there are strategies for building choice, connection and competence into the goal or task.
3. We’re using the equivalent of motivational junk food (i.e. metaphorical carrots and sticks such as tangible and intangible rewards, as well as fear and punishment). Motivational junk food may yield results in the short term, but it keeps us on a hamster wheel of unsustainable performance.
For example, when leaders want employees to participate in the annual best places to work survey they offer incentives like pizza parties or trinkets. There are other reasons why employees want to do the survey. If leaders can tap into those reasons the energy, excitement and commitment will last longer and have greater overall impact on the employee and the organization.
Learn more about these must-knows and how they apply to retention at NCET’s Biz Bite luncheon on Wednesday, October 23. NCET is a member-supported nonprofit organization that produces educational and networking events to help people explore business and technology. Tickets and more info at NCETbite.org.
Amber Barnes is the Founder and Chief Learning Officer at StartHuman, a local business on a mission to re-humanize the workplace (and beyond).