What Powers Motivation


Motivation has been a key in many self-development theories as old as time but with recent development in other aspects, this age-old phenomenon seems to have lost its lustre.

Either the theory is over used or the low success rate has  led to disappointments.  If one were to use the carrot-and-stick method to motivate without other considerations, it would not be surprising that it failed after some time.  The simple reason is that such method could only have short-term gains, unless you have a mind of a dog…those canines never get tired of responding to stimuli where food is involved.  That in itself is telling.  If the right motivation is applied in a consistent manner, the theory could still work.  May be it is time to update the theory to include other related issues.  Perhaps understanding how the brain works would help.

Using the indiscriminating rewards inconsistently and thoughtlessly is not likely to incite motivation.   Different people, by the pure nature of their innate differences, respond to different motivational factors.  The failure to recognize this is central to the ineffectiveness of such methods.  While this is really nothing new, the challenge prevails in finding how to motivate.  This is also the primary reason Change Management failed in so many organizations.

Organizations tend to develop policies of motivation along the lines of a one-size-fits-all monetary reward system of bonuses, salary increments and promotions.  All these are good and necessary but they will not drive the employees to give you the extraordinary mileage in performance.  Some employees may be after recognition and it does not necessarily mean receiving an award.  What counted more is regular and consistent acknowledgement of good work however small or insignificant it may be.  This could sometimes do the trick more than the annual increment does.

People response very well with encouragement and positive feedback according to psychologists  in the field of Positive Psychology.  When they given at the right times, they fuel repetition of better and better performance.  Such incremental dosages of improvement can accumulate to huge benefits. Have you notice how most salespeople work harder toward the end of the month or year when they have to hit their targets? They do this to retain a seat in the organization.  This would not help them push their envelopes to achieve off-the-chart sales records.

On the other hand, if their managers are able to decode their motivational factors with attention and encouragement, what could happen?  There is no need to elaborate or even guess the outcome.  It all boils down to finding the right formula.  We all know working with people is the most challenging part and finding the right formula is not as easy as it sounds.   In spite of all the tonnes of books published and years of study on this subject, it does not seem to make much progress.   More and more similar books and seminars continue to appear pouring in big monies into the industry but to no avail.  Knowing and applying the knowledge are two very different things.

Recognizing that the best motivation comes from self – the self-desire to make a change to meet a personal goal – is the one thing a manager could and should base their learning on in discovering what that means to an individual, helping them accomplish it and in so doing aligning that personal goal to organizational goals.  All that sounds straight-forward and easy if only…  That is the crux of the matter – why working with people is so challenging because to do that managers need special skills and plenty of patience as none of these changes can hatch overnight.  It requires a lot of seeding and hard work that most managers think they do not have time for and mostly uncertain of the rewards.

The typical mindsets of the managers have not changed.  They fail to realize that in this Information and Knowledge Age, the role of a manager has somewhat shifted to that of a caretaker with strong leadership instead of dishing out tasks to their staff telling them what to do.  It is not uncommon to find employees who are experts in fields where their manager is not and managing such a team requires managerial skill in leading, collaborating  and coaching instead of telling.

Individual differences do not stop and end with their motivations.  It comprises a lot more: educational level, abilities, personalities, intelligences, cultures, values, etc. – the whole works.  Such complexities mean that managers would need to acquire and polish their coaching skills to get the best out of their staff.

All of us are bound to old mind maps from our past experiences that set our beliefs and behaviours.  These maps are so ingrained in us that we no longer challenge their existence and their relevance to current situations largely because it takes less effort.  In unveiling our true potentials, there is a need to re-examine our current mindset and peel off the layers of old maps that do not serve us and replace them with new and more effective ones.  This yields huge benefits but the process takes time so strong commitment to this change process is critical.

In the workplace, coaching is used to help employees in their thinking patterns, translate the knowledge into practice, and discarding old mind maps and developing new habits.  This works particularly well when an individual or organization is undergoing change and for performance measurement.

Incorporating coaching into the organization culture allows managers to uncover the individual employee’s strengths and hidden talents and potential.  This would shape and improve the way organizations respond to external changes.

Many organizations are starting to turn to coaching; seeing a strong positive impact on their bottom line.  They recognize the benefits that vision, strategic planning and good systems on their own cannot produce.

The collective results of such nurturing will send their performance skyrocket off the charts of expectation but that can only happen if and when an organization invests time and money in developing such a culture throughout the organization to put the power of motivation to work at its best.

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