Motivation… the short version

I was reading the synopsis of a best selling book on motivation this morning and I was frankly unimpressed, so at the risk of setting myself an impossible challenge, here is what I believe is the essence of motivating people. 

They fall broadly into two camps; those who pursue ‘good’ things and those who seek to avoid ‘bad’ things.  Of course they decide what constitutes good and bad.  People do things because they choose to. 

They choose to do things that:-

  • Interest them
  • Reward them, either sooner or later
  • Remove them from risk or other nasty things
  • Make them feel good 

I think that is about it.  Obviously different people are motivated by different things and your job is to find out what motivates whom.  It is a subtle and complex art and requires insight and sensitivity.  Crude attempts to motivate tend to turn people off as they are not only irrelevant, they basically show that they are not seen and appreciated as individuals.

“You don’t have to be a fantastic hero to do certain things – to compete. You can be just an ordinary chap, sufficiently motivated.”    Edmund Hillary

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6 Responses to “Motivation… the short version”

  1. cjbryan says:

    Motivating yourself is as Richard describes. Motivating others is an art. One of my favourites was a study on the impact of light levels on factory productivity. In the days of time and motion, when to be a succesful consultant all you needed was a clipboard, a stopwatch and a beady eye, a consultant was asked to study how the light in a factory affected how hard the employees worked. They started by turning up the light, and consequently productivity increased. Then they turned the lights down, still productivity increased. In fact they found they could alter the lights until the employees were bumping into each other in the dark, or struck blind, and still output would go up. If the lights were left at a particular level the output would gradually drfit back to normal levels over several weeks, but the slightest change would result in the workforce beavering away harder.

    The conclusion from this was that the efffect of light levels on productivity was nil. It was the attention from the management that was influencing how hard the staff works. The moral of this tale is simply to be mindful of your staff and take an interest in what they do.

    I forget exactly when this study was carried out, sometime in the 30’s I think, but doesn’t this strike you as being a relevant lesson for the majority of employers today?

    Chris Bryan

    Tel: 01420 588172
    Mob: 07730 015658

  2. Agreed Chris

    I have come across that one and YES, a key element in determing your successs in motivating others is the level of your engagement with them.

  3. rob says:

    To be honest, there is an awful lot of dross out there in terms of motivation. Some good ideas, some decent, but partial, theories, but a lot of nonsense too.

    I work with a theory that looks at our motivational state as a ‘lens’ through which we see, and experience, the world. Motivational states are associated with our values – do we value achievement right now, or enjoyment, fitting in, freedom, power & control (for me, or for others) or relationship (to be loved or to love). The satisfaction or frustration of these needs directly influences our emotional experience too.

    All of this adds a qualitative dimension to motivation. We can assume that people are motivated. But in what way? Is their motivation appropriate to the context in which they are operating? As an example, I’ll refer to the original studies that this approach (Reversal Theory) was developed from. The researchers studied truants, and found that while some kids sought excitement from skipping school, others did so out of fear. At first they thought that they were dealing with traits – that some kids were thrill seeking and others ‘nervous’, but talking to them and observing them in other contexts told them otherwise – that people are motivated by different things in different situations, and also different things in the same situation at different times…

    This leads to the most important thing that this approach tells us about motivation, which is that you can’t reliably tell how people are motivated simply from their behaviour. It is the meaning behind the behaviour that matters, and you have to ask to find that out.


  4. Rob,
    I absolutely agree. Talking to them is essential. A client of mine recently wanted to change the behavciour of some key statff and thought one would be motivated by time off and the other by cash. It turned out he second one wanted time off too. Easily accommodated but a potentially big mistake if they hadn’t asked

  5. Paul Hayward says:

    Although you list 4 reasons why people do things, they all boil down to just one: it makes them feel good.

    Following an interest, following a rewarding avenue, or following a path that avoids nasty things – all promote good feelings.

    That being said, it is not always helpful because, as already noted, different people find different things make them feel good. And one person’s feel-good does not necessarily promote everybody’s feel-good.

    Moreover motivation, in isolation, is directionless. As Jim Rohn remarked, “If someone is going down the wrong road, he doesn’t need motivation to speed him up. What he needs is education to turn him around.”

    Paul Hayward

  6. I think it is important to recognise that the removal of a bad thing or a risk is also motivating for some people.

    Motivating is really all about ‘moving’ people’s behaviours and feelings and it tends to imply doing so in the desired direction. Of course if the various people concerned have different desires then they need to be aligned to make this a harmonious process.

    Thanks for your contribution Paul

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