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The keys to motivation (part two)


Last week, we started thinking about motivation; this week, we begin our exploration of the topic by establishing what motivation actually means.

While each individual makes his or her own choice about their performance, the good – or the bad, depending on how you look at it – news is that you have a lot to do with that choice.  It’s important that you, as a manager, understand what you can do to improve performance and what you might be doing that stopping the people within your team performing at their best.

There are three factors that we need to be aware of – the balance of these factors will determine the performance of each individual in your team.  However, as every good student knows, the beginning of wisdom is the definition of terms, so the first thing to think about is: what is motivation, anyway?  

My trusty dictionary describes motivation as “an inner impulse or that which makes a person act in a particular way” – in this case, to perform at their best.  I get a lot of queries about motivation and, in particular, managers often ask how they can motivate people.  There’s always a look of disappointment on their face when I reply that, fundamentally, they can’t.  Motivation comes from within – remember, the definition says “inner impulse” – it’s very difficult for you to get inside your team and create that impulse.  If it’s inner, it has to come from each of us.  

Essentially, when we say that we aren’t motivated to do something, what we’re actually saying is that we don’t feel like doing that thing.  Motivation is very important but sometimes a lack of motivation can be an excuse for something else that’s missing: discipline.  Sometimes, we have to do the things we don’t really feel like doing; we have to do the dirty work, sometimes.  American football coach Vince Lombardi summed it up this way: “The difference between a successful person and others is not a lack of strength, not a lack of knowledge, but rather a lack of will.”

To a greater or lesser extent, we all have a pretty fair idea of what it is that motivates us but it doesn’t always work.  I’m motivated by a drive to help people - that’s why I write this blog, week in and week out, and do a lot of other stuff for free.  I’m motivated to do it because it meets that inner need.  Sometimes, however, other factors get in the way, so assuming that finding out what motivates someone and then, assuming you can, offering it to them as an incentive doesn’t always work.  This is a slightly more sophisticated version of the “carrot and stick” approach to motivation but people are more complex than that and performance depends on other factors.

If you understand what those other factors are, you can create an environment within which people can feel motivated.  It’s a longer game to play, which is why some managers are reluctant to attempt it, but it will ultimately pay off for you and your team.  Next week, we’ll take a look at some of those factors.

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