Sunday, September 28, 2014

Motivating Others 101

One of the most frequent questions I get asked by managers is how to motivate their team or, more tricky, how to motivate disengaged team members. Despite being a common problem the question still makes me ‘um’ and ‘ah’ a lot is not a great opportunity to show off. You’d think by now that I’d have a nicely scripted answer.

The truth is that there is no simple solution. I was listening to a radio program yesterday where a psychologist in the area of coaching was offering some interesting motivational tips. They were certainly very useful and the research shows they work but they all involved the cognitive side of things. I think there is a step that needs to occur before cognitive strategies, which are largely skills, work. The important factor is emotion, which is the core driver for motivation and action, and operates in a number of ways. At the most basic level people need to have a desire to act. And for them to change takes a stronger desire.

For the economically minded this can be thought of as a cost-benefit analysis. The desire or perceived benefit to do something must outweigh the desire or perceived benefit not to do it: that is to do something else.  And remember, choosing not to do something is a behavior. When we see apparently irrational and self-sabotaging behavior by others we are prone to shake our heads. What motivates them to do this we wonder in disbelief? Well, all human behavior is purposeful, even if we are not aware of the reasons for it: even our own. There is a reason, a drive for it and the reason is usually emotionally charged.

Motivation can be obtained externally. It appears to be true that charismatic leaders are able to engage followers and get them to engage, to desire a goal or outcome and to act. History is replete with them and some with the charismatic gift can be found in organisations. But charisma is a trait and relatively rare. It is not something that is going to be picked up in a leadership course. You either have it, or you don’t.

It may surprise many that fear is a poor motivator. It might work in the short term but disengagement is the only sure outcome over a longer period. The person may seem to be motivated but output will be low along with creativity and innovation.

So, if you’re charismatic you can get up and give an emotionally charged speech, Billy Graham or Hitler style, or can just lead by the fact that people are drawn to you. But for most of us trying to motivate others is going to be a much more difficult task and take some skill. The skills required are largely interpersonal and psychological, and requires a coaching style.

The trick is to find out from the individual what it is that drives the person, gets them excited, their passion and what makes them want to get out of bed in the morning. The next is to find out what they really feel about the work they do, the team they are in, their goals (if they have any) and, most importantly, why they come to work. Now, this is no easy task and requires a lot of relationship building. It also requires asking some difficult questions about whether or not this is a good job fit, whether leadership is an issue (what am I doing?) and alternatives. For example, we tend to fit people around jobs so getting jobs to fit around people is not easy in any organization-its not how we do things except for the more gifted person who we want to keep no matter what. For those employees it is worth the effort.

These conversations attempt to talk to the emotional person-desires, needs, wants, drivers, turn-offs. If you have any empathic skills you should be able to see whether or not the person is reacting in an emotional way: positive or negative. This is the key, you need an emotional reaction. If you’re not getting any in the way of tangible excitement or disappointment, for example, then its not working or at least there won’t be change. If you are getting an emotional reaction then you are onto something and then need to pursue whatever it is that has caused the reaction.

The end result is a commitment from the person, and you, to take some sort of action. This needs to be monitored in the short term, then medium term for success and to follow-up on barriers, things that might be getting in the way. This latter issue is a key change technique. If the person is not taking action then lets find out what is happening to prevent success.

If you’re a manager that doesn’t find it easy to have these sorts of conversations, take heart because the skills can be learned.