My Ten Year Anniversary of Blogging: What We Learn By Going Back to Basics
The Difference Between Quiet and Loud Motivation

The Language of Motivation



Hello, and welcome back to this continuing series on motivation. Last week, we looked at how to get motivated by going back to basics. This week, we are now going to be looking at how we can motivate others.


In 2008, Shankar Vedantam wrote a fascinating article for the Washington Post, in which he made the profound observation that rewards and punishments have replaced people’s intrinsic motivations. Correspondingly, the effect has been counterproductive: namely, people become less motivated as a result of these rewards and punishments.


I believe this observation is as true now as it was ten years ago. And although there has been an incremental paradigm shift from top-down, militaristic approaches of corporate governance (discussed in more detail in my book Mapping Motivation), to something more bottom-top, the widely used model is still that of control. In most cases, this control is leveraged via twofold financial means: you will be made redundant if you do not perform exactly as you are instructed (putting you in a financial strait) and you will be given a monetary bonus if you do (you will have cash to spare).


Coupled with this, there is also a commonly held belief that people are not ‘fired’ on the spot in the same way they used to be, or that employees are no longer at the mercy of a tyrannical manager’s whim in the ways they were in the early 20th Century. I would ask anyone who maintains this belief to spend a single day working in a service centre. The 1950s is alive and well in modern Britain. Businesses will always find a way, sad though that is, to control.


The other, more insidious, problem is that contrary to popular belief, not everyone is motivated by money. In fact, the majority of people are not motivated by money, strange as it may sound. Of course, we all like the idea of money, but in actuality it does not bring happiness, nor allows us to maintain it.


So, what does a bottom-top approach look like? To me, this is typified by managers working to discover the needs of employees and helping to meet them. Because this is beneficial not only to the employee but the manager and company as a whole. To lift an extract from Mapping Motivation: a primary aspect of any manager’s job is ensuring that they understand what their employees actually want and take the steps that guarantee they get it. So a second and far-reaching implication of this work is that the role of the manager is subtly changing: it is not just about content, content, content – ‘what are our goals, let’s do it’. It is now about process: how do we get the people on board, so they want to do it?”


So we have cultures that major on rewarding by money or by status, or alternatively gain acquiescence through fear of punishment. The basic and possibly unexamined assumption must be that anyone joining such an organisation or culture seeks precisely that carrot or stick option to maintain their motivation. The reality of course – in terms of outcomes – is very different.


The truth is: motivation is like a language – if you go to France the best way of getting on with the French is to speak their language. And they are not alone – the Spanish like Spanish, the Welsh like Welsh, and every culture prefers its own dialect. Alas, the ‘Anglo-Saxon’ English speakers are notorious for expecting every tribe on Earth to speak English, and perhaps this attitude infects their management styles too.


Therefore, the real question is: how do we discover what motivates each individual? One way would be to listen to the flatulent harpings on of managers who’ve been there, done that, got the T-shirt, and will tell you unequivocally: they know their people. Interestingly, over 90% of these same managers fail to actually predict their own top three motivators! Equally, parents claim the same about their kids – we know what motivates our children! But you wouldn’t think so, would you, when you speak to those same employees and kids once they have left the influence zone?


Just as we have a language(s) to measure personality, we need a language and a metric to measure motivation, so that managers and parents need no longer guess. Such a language has been created – Motivational Maps®. But the thing is, motivation isn’t easy. For one thing, it changes over time, sometimes slowly and sometimes quickly. This means that unlike personality profiles, which tend to be constant, motivation needs to be monitored.


If before we said it was like a language, now we claim it is like a muscle: you exercise it and it can grow and change. Of course, exercise can be hard work – and we all want to avoid that. It is enough for most of us that we are focused on organisational goals; the idea that we have to discover and speak the appropriate motivational ‘language’ for all our colleagues is too exhausting to contemplate. We pay them enough, don’t we?


However, for those who wish to be really effective, as well as gifted communicators, this is the route to go down – the new route – the route that a new language of motivation opens up.


Next week, we discuss 'loud' versus 'quiet' motivation. Stay tuned for more blogs about how to get motivated, how to get back to basics, and how you can improve your work-life. A series coming to a webpage near you! 





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