Monday

Five Methods of Motivation That Don't Work



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Susan Fowler's latest book is all about how to do motivation right. The problem, as Susan points out, is that we've been going about motivation entirely the wrong way with the carrot-and-stick metaphor when in fact research has shown us that there are far more effective methodologies.

Susan describes below five "traditional" methods of motivation that are still widely used today -- and why they are deeply ineffective.

1    1. Verbal  Cheerleading. "You can do it! Keep up the effort! Give me just one more!" Recent research finds that coaches who verbally encourage people in training sessions are significantly less effective than quiet coaches. The verbal encouragement generates external pressure, diminishing people's sense of autonomy and internal fortitude. Whether coaching athletes or individuals in the workplace, your cheerleading may be undermining your good intentions.

2     2. Competitions. Setting up a competitive situation to “motivate” people begs the question—why are people competing?  People’s creativity, innovation, and long-term productivity suffer when they are competing to beat someone else, gain power and status, win an award, or receive an incentive compared to competing as a means to learn, gain experience, and obtain insight into development needs. Most competitions generate external pressure that ultimately defeats people and undermines long-term skill building and sustained high performance.

3    3. Imposing values. The most well-intentioned and values-based leaders often do this: Through their own sense of purpose and passion, they unwittingly impose their values on others. It doesn't matter how noble your values may be, if you impose them on people you run the risk of eroding people’s sense of autonomy and the opportunity for them to explore their own reasons for acting.

4    4. Incentivizing. Despite compelling research on the undermining effects of rewards and incentives to positively affect and sustain behavior, leaders and organizations still use this technique as a way of motivating people. Here's the problem: People are always motivated. The question is why. Giving people an incentive to motivate them is akin to feeding them junk food. The initial energy spike quickly falls and so does the quality of people’s motivation.

5    5. Praising. It may seem counter-intuitive, but when you praise people as a means of “motivating” them, it often has the same implications as an incentive or a reward—externalizing the reason people take action (to please you)! Focus on providing pure informational feedback, trusting people to evaluate their own performance. (Don’t confuse praising with sharing your gratitude. A heartfelt expression of thanks is always appropriate.)

5 comments:

Heather Hyde Jennings said...

Bravo - this is such an important concept: ALL people ARE ALREADY motivated now, and leaders do not create motivation or supply it. The valuable thing is to become interested and compassionate enough to discover the themes and variations in people's motivations and find ways to bring alignment between the satisfaction of the individual and the satisfaction of the group. Alignment is not about making us all the same in our values and motivations, but orchestrating harmony, where we can. The simple act of helping people get to KNOW each other, and to find out what they have in common and how they are different works amazing wonders as a first step.

Thanks - can't wait to read the book!
Heather

Sue Wilhite said...

I remember decades ago, in the late 1980's (!), a business teacher pointing out why rewarding employees with goodies was like feeding jelly beans to a bear to stop it from eating you - eventually, you'll run out of jelly beans, and the bear will still eat you! I've always wondered why more people didn't already know this...

Barry Altland said...

Thanks for nailing this! I began to think that I was swimming alone in the shark-infested reward and recognition waters, destined to give myself up to the hungry, rabid predators who devour good intention! Yes, our people each have their own intrinsic drivers that compel to do whatever they do! Our role as a leader is to discover what those drivers are, and then leverage them to perform in meaningful ways that sustain their passion! Yes, both simple and exceedingly difficult to achieve!

Barry Altland said...

Thanks for nailing this! I began to think that I was swimming alone in the shark-infested reward and recognition waters, destined to give myself up to the hungry, rabid predators who devour good intention! Yes, our people each have their own intrinsic drivers that compel to do whatever they do! Our role as a leader is to discover what those drivers are, and then leverage them to perform in meaningful ways that sustain their passion! Yes, both simple and exceedingly difficult to achieve!

Rick said...

Looking forward to reading your book as well.

I trust you also discuss de-motivators. In our work we have often found it is easier to remove a de-motivator from a person's work environment than it is to add the elements that spark the intrinsic motivation. And, surprisingly, it is often the case that one person's de-motivator is another person's motivator.

Lou Holtz expressed it very well when he said:

“It’s not my job to motivate players. They bring extraordinary motivation to our program. It’s my job not to de-motivate them.”