07 July 2016

What’s the secret behind effective motivation—and one insight you can apply in your life right now


Continuing from yesterday’s blog ‘Why you should think about motivation’, we explore what is known about motivation and what is one thing you could do to be a more effective motivator.

If that building supervisor from yesterday's story wants to tap into collective knowhow, what else could he consider before deciding whether to comply with his underperforming workers’ interests?

For instance, a widely cited study of more than 11 thousand West Point cadets by Wrzesniewski and Schwartz suggests that people with strong internal motivation and weak instrumental or extrinsic motivation become more successful than those who have strong external motives combined with strong internal motives. The researcherssuggest that “efforts should be made to structure activities so that instrumental consequences do not become motives.”

Several organisational behaviour experts conclude from these findings that managers should not depend heavily on external motivators like remuneration to achieve high workplace performance—because a person’s internal motivators are stronger drivers and predictors of results.

To support views from the second camp, organisational psychologist Victor Lipman suggests that “How you feel is often more important than what you earn” backed by a study that 83% to 90% of 1,200 employees said recognition, praise and a fun work environment were “very motivating” or “extremely motivating”.

Now, it may seem here that the cause of feeling good are three different external motivators, but if we return to that third bricklayer in the original story from yesterday, Carl (the one feeling good about his work, and being the only one who fulfilled work targets) was not being externally motivated, was he?

All these outcomes may look different, but they fulfil the same function of satisfying a meaningful human need for specific humans.

And when it comes to human needs, motivational guru Anthony Robbins reckons the four core needs of the personality are Certainty, Variety, Significance and Connection.

If the building supervisor in our story considers these needs, perhaps he might do the following:

  • Understand better which of the needs are important to each worker, and himself, and find ways to meet them within the context of the workplace.
  • Provide monetary or other valued incentives for completing 100% of allocated work, not just paying Alan more before he produces results. He may also review what ‘100% allocation’ entails.
  • Create a friendly competition that is voluntary in nature, and benchmark expectations against Carl’s initial performance.

In essence, the secret behind effective motivation starts with understanding human needs. And this is the one thing you could do to be a more effective motivator.