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March 2010

The language of motivation

Sadly, all human beings are flawed and imperfect; all human organisations are limited; and most sadly I find that all diagnostic instruments exhibit strange characteristics when under stress. It is for this reason, perhaps, that I have long resisted, and recently so too, the pressure to get Motivational Maps translated into another language. One language is slippery enough, but what would I make of a second? Nothing, as I don’t speak any other language fluently enough to know whether its translation really reflects the nuances of the English original.

And these nuances are exactly part of the trouble. I read somewhere long ago that some languages are very precise: Ancient Greek, for example, from which so many of our scientific terms and inventions are coined (appropriately) – I guess we want our science to be precise. Whether that’s true I don’t know, not speaking ancient Greek, but I do know the English language can be a devil of imprecision. Before I move on – each downside, of course, has its corresponding benefit. I think myself the ambiguity of English sentence construction and vocabulary is largely responsible for the nation’s brilliant poetry output. But that is another topic!

No, in writing a product like Motivational Maps we want to avoid uncertainty and ambiguity, and we want subjects to consistently understand what we mean. Two years ago we had our first taste of the ‘ambiguity’ question: namely, we call the person whose motivation is to ‘belong’, The Friend. We discovered in one sector – Education, teachers – that teachers being fed back with the information that ‘Friend’ was their lowest motivator found this somewhat upsetting. No matter how often the coach told them that this didn’t mean that they weren’t a friend, or that they didn’t have friendship skills, they still found this an affront to their self-identity. Teachers were ‘friends’ after all, weren’t they?

The net result of this was that a separate version of the Motivational Map was created specifically for Education and to avoid the offence. In the new map – see– the Friend is now The Connector to better try to reflect the essence of what we are trying to say.

Today, I went into a company and found the coach querying me on the Director motivator. This is the person who wants control of people and resources. It’s absence in large management teams can spell trouble – as the motivator to actually control, that is, to manage, is not there (although the knowledge and skill set may be). But two people quite independently took offence at the coach for suggesting its absence in their profile might be something to watch. The crux of their complaint proved to be that it was offensive that they should even want to be seen to be controlling others -that was fascist! What, the coach asked me, do I say?

We talked through the issue of ensuring the message that motivators are not skill, knowledge or capability indexes was made. That perhaps we should substitute ‘manage’ for ‘control’, and using the expression ‘taking responsibility for’ would be helpful. Nevertheless, I was left with the abiding impression that whatever words you use, somebody, somewhere is going to find them threatening, difficult, or just plain challenging.

With only 2 queries out of about 6000 Maps completed, I don’t think I shall be changing this piece of language immediately. But clearly, it’s important to keep listening to what the feedback is. And hoping – I’ve understood exactly what it means!

Getting to grips with performance

The subject of performance is one of the most important of our lives and of our business. The reasons are not difficult to understand. At one level we are constantly judging how people perform, consciously or subconsciously. This may be easy to get when we consider a leader or manager at work: we think, of course, the annual appraisal and performance review – that’s the way things are. But it’s much more pervasive than that.


We go into a restaurant and long before we begin to think how the chef has performed with the meal, we are making assessments about the décor and especially how we are treated. In some instances how we are served is more important: if the staff makes us feel important and welcome we may well go back even if the cuisine is not as good as elsewhere.


Further, if the post arrives at 3.00 PM and usually we get it at 11.00 AM we think the performance is poor. More seriously, if when we get home our wife /husband/partner doesn’t treat us in the way that we consider worthy of us we become very discontented. Usually, when this happens over a prolonged period of time we don’t say, Darling, your performance as my partner has been poor’, instead we scream over some issue or other or simply leave and find somebody else.


Even with our children we expect them to perform as children should perform. In fact it could be said that the parent who has no expectation of performance from their child is rearing a monster.


Thus, at every level, whether we think about it or not, we are deciding when we interact with somebody else: are they performing for us?


What then is performance? In our model Performance has three dimensions.


The first of these is Direction. In order to perform we need to be going in the right direction. From an organisational point of view we like to use posher words: we say that we need the right vision and strategy. And we set goals and targets accordingly. From the individual point of view, going in the right direction from the work perspective means choosing the right sort of career in the right sort of environment, given your own strengths and weaknesses.


The second key aspect of performance is Skill. By which I mean skills and knowledge that enable one to do and complete task and activities successfully. Again, there may be other words - like competencies – with subtle shades and differences of meaning, but the gist is clear. Can we master the techniques and knowledge that enable us to get things done? In most organisations huge resources are devoted to coping with the Skill needs: we undertake TNAs (Training Need Analyses), we run Induction programmes for newcomers, we ensure that our appraisal processes discuss and discover what further skills our staff require to function effectively, and so on.


Finally, the third key aspect of performance is Motivation. This is the least understood aspect of all, whilst at the same time is the one that the most lip-service is paid to. (Please, let us never hear again the expression: staff are our most important resource!) Motivation is the energy, and the direction of that energy, that we bring to any task. Like energy it is difficult to ‘see’, and like energy its absence is always immediately felt. It is curiously the glue that holds the strategy and the skill together: without it the best strategy in the world will fail, and all the skills will avail you nothing. But motivation on its own is directionless and awkward.


Thus, if we consider our organisation and our self, we might ask, how are we performing and how would we know?


One way of knowing – the most common and superficial way – is by outputs or outcomes. In other words, most people will assume that if there business is highly profitable or as an individual they are currently making lots of money with loads of perks in their current post, then they are performing well. This may be true, but there is, too, a large a probability that it is illusory and that they are deluding themselves!


What do I mean by that? Outcomes, whilst desirable and necessary, don’t always tell the whole story and we sometimes need to dig deeper. A good contemporary example of this – that I hope makes it really obvious and incontrovertible – would be the banks. Up till 2007 every one would say they are performing at a high level; and yet this proved to be totally unfounded, and despite the fact that Sir Fred Goodwin walked away a rich man, few would argue he performed successfully; on the contrary, he took RBS in the wrong direction (had the wrong strategy), he (and most other senior bankers apparently) did not have the skills and knowledge of banking (or qualifications which often can reflect this), and their motivations, such as they were, do not seem to have been directed towards the company’s benefit, rather their own.


Hindsight is easy, but the point that is important is this: yes, by all means, let’s monitor outputs carefully, but also if we want to be a high performer, let us use other methods to establish how we are doing. There is a saying in America that ‘feedback is the breakfast of champions’. We all need feedback and that begins with our own efforts to understand where we are.


I invite you therefore to do a simple exercise, really a review of your current performance inputs. Consider your current organisation or your self personally and ask how are we, or I, doing, out of ten, on the three key aspects of performance? Ten out of ten means our direction/skill/motivation is superb, and one out of ten means we can barely spell the word, let alone understand it.











This is simply rough and ready, but having done it what do you discover? Look at which of the three areas is lowest. And any score below 6 needs serious attention. Also, ask a friend or colleague for their assessment (and compare notes after) – how accurate are you?


The beginning of all change is in self-awareness – and that includes our ability to perform at a higher level.


What effect does low motivation have on your organisation?

One of the saddest things about working in organisations is often the lack of time and attention that is paid to motivation of the staff by senior and middle managers. It is always one of the nonurgent priorities that can be deferred till later. The net result of this is that motivation also becomes not only non-urgent but non-important too.

One of the great laws of the universe is that the visible things depend for their existence on the invisible things. Put another way, what is derives from what we cannot see. The ancient Egyptians put this very succinctly: “All the world which lies below has been set in order and filled in contents by the things which are placed above; for the things below have not the power to set in order the world above.” St Paul described it another way: “for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal”.

What has this got to do with motivation? Everything! We do not ‘see’ motivation, although we can experience its effects. But because we do not see it – like we see the money in the bank in the bank statement, or the widgets on the production line (or more generally the ‘targets achieved’) – we discount in some way its importance and consequences.

There are ten major effects of not paying attention to the invisible energy of motivation in your organisation. Check your organisation against these ten points.

One, lack of motivation leads to an increase in staff turnover. Various statistics are wheeled out about this, and it will clearly vary year on year, and within sectors. On average something like 18% of staff turnover in the first year, although some figures put this at 60% in the first six months. But just say one in five is likely to leave within the first year that is an enormous expense. For the average operative the cost is over £8K in the UK, for managers more like £12K, and for senior managers the cost is astronomical. What is it costing you?

Two, productivity of course goes down. According to the Principle Pareto the difference between your most effective and motivated staff and your least (in a reasonably sized organisation) is sixteen times! Think about that – your motivated staff are likely to be sixteen times more productive!! Staggering.

Three, low motivation means absence rates go up, which further depresses productivity. But also, it creates further low morale, feeding low energy and low self-esteem. Low self-esteem feeds overall low or under-performance.

Four, recruitment costs go up. This is a necessary consequence of point One of course. Bear in mind the advertising costs, recruitment agency fees, and the sheer time involvement in the selection and interviewing process. Few people really like doing this – it’s a major distraction from the core business of servicing the customers.

Five, while we are busy deploying staff to fill in for those leaving hell, and setting up interviewing panels for those about to enter it, we find that fire fighting increases. Long term fire fighting leads invariably to health issues because of the stress involved. In other words, health of existing staff goes down; this in turn re-enforces points Two and Three.

Six, unsurprisingly with all this going on, we start losing customers because the service is poor. This is the beginning of the death of the organisation.

Seven, our reputation as an organisation plummets. The customers who left at point Six talk about us. Negative PR sets in. It is estimated that the average dissatisfied customer informs at least 13 other people. I remember when I received particularly bad service from an American laptop company I went on a six month rampage and informed about 1300 people at just about every speaking gig I spoke at. And interestingly, this same company has recently received a similar roasting on the Institute of Directors Linkedin Group discussion. How bad news travels!

Eight, so with all this negativity going on as a result of poor motivation, some one at the top decides the staff who remain need training. Training costs go seriously UP. This sounds good? It might be, but unfortunately most training – which is not compliance, health and safety or technical – is misdirected. We train people on skills, because that is easy; we need to focus on training for motivation. We need a language and measurement for motivation, and most senior managers miss this point. Thus the training falls short of addressing the real issues within the organisation.

Nine, our outsourcing costs are going to go up too. Training hasn’t worked, so call in the consultants. This is consultants’ paradise. And it is usually massively disempowering for the senior management as well as the organisation as a whole. We have read much recently about the whole sale reliance of Government departments – to mention one sector – on consultants which has proved not value for money. The truth is: most consultants know very little about motivation, but quite a bit about processes. There’s the disconnect: these processes, you know, require motivated people.

Ten, these Nine consequences of low motivation lead to the final Tenth: failure. And failure means Net Asset Value down, means blame, despair up, and finally self-belief down. And when self-belief is down, self-confidence is done, and the game is over.

Where are you with the motivation of your staff? How you got a strategic plan to address low motivation? How do you stack up against these ten points? You know, now is the time to address them. Motivation may be invisible but we can’t live without it. As it says in the I-Ching: “They put themselves in accord with the Tao and its power and in conformity with this laid down the order of what is right. By thinking through the order of the outer world to the end, and by exploring the law of their nature to the deepest core, they arrived at an understanding of fate.”




In the world of business we are very familiar with the concept of performance. So too in the world of sport – performance matters. In fact whether we are aware of it or not, all of us are consciously or sub-consciously assessing other people’s performance all the time: has the post arrived on time? Is the service in the shop good enough? Does my partner treat me well? And so on. What we want is performance, and in our most intense relationships – our life partner for example – if we don’t get performance, we quit. Usually we don’t say, ‘I don’t think you are performing’, but we feel undervalued, wasted, and fed up to the point where we take action.


My friend Jeremy Old has recently posted a PDF file – available on his website: - which reveals research showing that 91,030 people are probably dying a year as a result of what he calls ‘organisational stress’, but which we might refer to as the poor performance of the NHS. This is simply a staggering statistic, and means that more people die in the UK from hospital error than any other cause! What is being done about it (Jeremy’s article does have some great ideas) and by which political party?


The truth is, like bankers, it would appear that politicians have absolved themselves from the need to perform. One hardly knows whether to weep or – or what? – to cry, so bad is the lamentable nature of their inadequacies: to hear, on the one hand Douglas Alexander, grilled by John Humphries, pretending that leadership isn’t an issue in the forthcoming election – presumably because Gordon Brown has something more important than leadership in mind if he retains office; or, on the other, to find Sir Nicholas Winterton complaining about ‘a totally different type of’ person who uses standard rail fares, which are not for him. And this, in the wake of the expenses scandal, is to remind one of that immortal line from Macbeth: ‘Fit to govern! No not to live. O nation miserable’.


Perhaps it would help if we reminded politicians of what performance is about: three core elements in the mix. The first might be termed Direction. A simple word, which is we wanted to complicate would incorporate elements of vision, strategy, planning, goals and objective. People want to know where they are going; and tinkerings, and endless Heath Robinson increments and incrustations on existing structures, do not constitute a Direction. Where is the UK going?


The second ingredient of performance is what might be termed Skills and Knowledge. This is where at a national level Education comes in. And here again, we have utterly screwed up. All the statistics say – the targets ‘met’ – that educational levels are improving; all the evidence on the ground is the opposite. And that it cannot be improving is evident from the premises on which it starts.


These require a separate blog, but just to start with one: the Crowther Report of 1959 established the central two purposes of the educational process: one, human rights, and two, national investment. Both were equally important, it argued, but then made an interesting admission, given its recent memories of World War 2 and Naziism: primacy had to be given to human rights and the development of the individual. It is precisely the reverse of that that has now occurred. And the result is clear: a process producing increasingly a ‘skills-based’ group think kind of education. It is not only nowadays that young people are often illiterate and innumerate; it’s that many can’t think at all – they actually believe advertising and – worse – Authority.


Finally, the third and vital ingredient in the performance mix is: motivation. Without motivation there is no energy, no progress, no movement. One of the most important motivators is what we call the Searcher – the need to make a difference, for meaning and purpose. And that precisely leads back to the absence of a Direction – of a vision for this country.


So my challenge is: which political party is going to start performing? Who is going to provide the Direction? Re-shape an education system, still with some good pockets within it, but desperately in need of a re-think? And finally motivate the people by feeding their deeper aspirations?


James Sale