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September 2012

Motivation and the three Es

Motivation is an exciting topic; apart from leading to the three Ps of Performance, Productivity and Profit, motivation is what we need in life independently of whether we perform better. I like to say that my two cats have low IQs, small knowledge and a limited skills repertoire that always seem to remain the same. Yet despite that they have a marvellous life in our home and in our garden because
they are always highly motivated – to relax, to exercise and even to sleep! 

What, then, are the three Es that motivation is correlated with?

First, motivation is about the E of Engagement whether this is on an organisational, team or individual level. And this is obvious: when we are motivated we become involved, absorbed in what we are doing – we become engaged in what we are doing. Engagement strategies that are all the rage at the moment, especially in the USA and Canada, are good in themselves but frequently they are too generic to be truly effective at the organisational level.

What do I mean by that? I mean that someone works out that the staff would be more ‘engaged’ if the benefits that the organisation offered were more substantial: thus, everyone receives the better pension package, the superior holiday entitlements, the universal access to the gym or rest room being built on the premises. And take that last example: yes, of course, it slightly motivating to think your company cares enough about you to provide a gym or rest room, but what percentage really take up this option consistently? Not everyone wants a rest room or a gym.

I like to call this the carpet-bombing approach to engagement or motivation. As opposed to the Exocet missile approach – knowing what does actually motivate each individual, each team, and the dominant pattern for the whole organisation. Motivation is probably at least 70% of the engagement mix, and yet instead of understanding it, organisations assume it will be produced by generic engagement strategies that operate on a one-size-fits-all basis.

Motivation is also about the second E, which is Enthusiasm. This is arguably the most attractive quality to be found in any human being. We see the geek and his or her passion for some abstruse and recondite topic or hobby, but the very love for it and the way they talk about it is infectious. Ultimately, the most enthusiastic people are children, which is one reason why they are so attractive: unaffected by cynicism, cool and chic – they love what they love and are unabashedly enthusiastic about it.

To be enthusiastic is to be forever young and there is a good reason for this: namely, the etymology of the word comes from two Greek words meaning, God-Breathed or God-in-us. Enthusiastic people seem to have a spirit – a divine spirit – in them that transcends time and the ordinary, and immunises them against mortality. If this sounds pie-in-the-skiey we need to bear in mind its practical application: as Brian Tracy, the great American sales guru, once observed: “50% of any sale is a transfer of enthusiasm”. In other words, irrespective of qualification, knowledge and experience, sheer enthusiasm alone can carry you to sales success in any profession! That’s a pretty amazing fact.
But of course, if you are ‘god-breathed’ one you might expect.

Finally, motivation is about the third E, which is Energy. My favourite synonym for motivation is energy. As with the cats, the quality of your life and mine is directly correlated with the amount of energy you have at any one time. And, as with fitness, health and even relationships, you can improve these by – one, knowing where you currently are; two, planning to improve; and three, taking action.

Take fitness: we either know we are unfit or some expert like our doctor or personal coach tell us that fact. We do a diagnostic to find out exactly our situation. Then we are told what to do about it. In medical jargon: examination, diagnosis, prescription. Of course, we need to take the prescription. So with motivation: if we do the audit – and Motivational Maps is a great one – we will discover where we are. From that we can build reward strategies that lead us – if we follow them – into higher levels of motivation. Which means, more energy, more quality of life!

So, the ultimate benefit of the 3Es is quality of life – a pretty big benefit I think you will all agree?

Motivation and the 3 Ps

Motivation, as I like to say, is not a benefit, rather it is a feature of the work experience. What does this mean? It means that it is quite difficult to sell motivation either as a product or a concept to senior people who buy training and people development stuff. Yes, of course, everyone wants motivation in a general sense; everybody would probably agree that motivation is better than de-motivation, but motivation per se is tainted with being 'fuzzy', 'optional', not 'core' when it comes to what organisations need to become competitive and successful.

If, then, it is a feature, what is the benefit that all organisations want and will pay good money for? These are the three essential Ps.

The most important of these for all businesses is P for Profit. Without profit the business cannot survive. But what creates profit? In virtually all organisations of any size profit is a direct result of the people who work in it. They work and are paid a wage; the wage they earn needs to be covered by their work and any excess work becomes profit.

The more excess work over and above their cost to the business results in more profit. (Of course, a business is going broke where the costs of the staff exceed the value they are able to add). There is a word we use to characterise this work and especially the excess – the second P: productivity. Highly productive members of staff produce more than their cost, and so produce profit.

But what makes a highly productive member of staff? Who are highly productive members of staff? If we remember the Pareto Principle we will be clear that these highly productive individuals can be up to 16 times more productive than their less successful counterparts. Sixteen times! That is a staggering achievement especially if we are dealing with, as we frequently are, people being paid the same standard salary. Further, and awfully, the Pareto Principle also clearly means that 20% of our staff produce 80% of our profit, and sadly, 80% produce only 20%. The challenge, then, is to skew this law so that it works more in our favour: imagine how much more productivity and profit would be possible if instead of 80-20, we had 70-30 or even 60-40. In other words, we doubled the number of staff who were actually seriously productive?

But how do we find these 'productive' individuals? Do we, at interview, ask them the question, Are you productive? Because we know the answer: everyone says, Of course I am!

No, we have to go back a stage if we want profit, if we want productivity, to ask about the third P: this is the source of the productivity and then the profit. The third P, the third benefit, is Performance; we need high performing men and women, and this concept of performance is much more specific and measurable than whether or not someone is productive or likely, even, to produce profit for the organisation.

And who are the high performing people? Well, they are characterised by three outstanding features. First, they have a clear sense of direction. Can they explicate that convincingly? Second, they have the relevant knowledge and skills and openness to learning that indicates high achievement levels. On their own, however, neither of these two features are enough. The core feature that guarantees that the member of staff will perform at a high level is: Motivation!

Thus, it is short-termism that leads business leaders to discount motivation in their profit equations. The kind of people you need are those who are motivated. And to find that out you need the right tools.