Stephen Covey writes: “Whether they realize it or not, business leaders are practicing psychologists in the sense that their attempts to motivate people are based on their assumptions of human nature.”
Some of the prior dominant approaches to management were based on faulty views of human nature. Thus, they may have resulted in great efficiency, but at the expense of people. Ultimately, of course, this also hindered productivity because when people are less engaged, they are less effective. But worse, these approaches were against the purpose of management, which is not simply to get things done through others, but to develop people in the accomplishment of tasks.
Thus, Covey suggests, following Lee Iacocca, that “maybe we should study motivation before we set up structure.”
This document brings together some of my notes on motivation. It is not intended as a full article, but just a collection of notes. We will first discuss motivation, and then some suggested practices for motivating on the basis of strengths.
What Motivation Is
Motivation is first of all not getting people to do what you want with minimum trouble. That is authority. Our aim is motivation, not control.
It is getting people to act willingly. Because it is in their interest and the organization’s interest.
Things to Recognize
The only motivation that really works is self-motivation. Put people in the position where they will be self-motivated, and remove things that hinder them. Collins stuff here also.
Must know how different people respond. Different people are motivated by different things. Factors of intrinsic motivation: autonomy, mastery, purpose.
If you label someone a loser, they will act like one. If you hold people to high expectations, they will achieve them. “When teachers held high expectations of their students, that alone was enough to cause an increase of 25 points in the students’ IQ scores.”
Must allow for and take advantage of the more emotional side of human nature.
Positive reinforcement from Peters.
Important Theories on Motivation
Hierarchy of needs. They are sequential: higher level need doesn’t motivate until levels beneath it satisfied. Satisfied needs don’t motivate. Self-actualization never satisfied, and revised hierarchy later in life to have sixth level: self-transcendence.
- Level 1: Physiological. Food, water, air, sex etc.
- Level 2: Safety. Security of body, employment, resources, morality, family, health, property.
- Level 3: Love/belonging. Friendship, family, sexual intimacy.
- Level 4: Esteem. Self-esteem, confidence, achievement, respect of others, respect by others.
- Level 5: Self actualization: Performing at your peak potential. Morality, creativity, spontaneity, problem solving.
Motivators and satisfiers. Satisfiers (hygiene factors) prevent dissatisfaction but do not motivate. Motivators are intrinsic to the work itself: challenge, enjoyment, etc.
Theory X and Theory Y. People naturally want to do good work and grow in responsibility.
That Management Seminar
Talked about people as primarily motivated by one of three things: relationships, order, and opportunity to rise.
The ultimate aim everyone has is to maximize their happiness.
The three components: Autonomy, mastery, purpose. Bake into job design and culture. Autonomy, primarily from job design and principle of trusting people. Mastery, need to train and direct people towards their strengths. Purpose, from culture—our beliefs, mission, and values. The rest of this document is on the second, mastery, by focusing on strengths.
Motivate by focusing on strengths. As Buckingham points out: Find out what motivates your employees, and try to create an environment that will help them become self-motivated. One of the primary responsibilities of manager is to change the feelings of team members from “have to” to “want to.”
Six Reasons Focusing on Weaknesses Doesn’t Motivate
The problems with focusing on weakness, and thinking that anyone can become anything they want if they just fix their areas of non-talent:
- It eliminates individuality. If we all can be anything we want to be, then we all have the same potential. And if we all have the same potential, we lose our individuality. “We are not uniquely talented, expressing ourselves through unique goals, unique capabilities, and unique accomplishments. We are all the same. We have no distinct identity, no distinct destiny. We are all blank sheets of canvas, ready, waiting, and willing, but featureless.”
- It can’t work. Since our talents are given and we cannot create new ones (we can create new strengths by building on talent, but not new talents—recurring patterns of thought, feeling, and behavior), focusing on turning our nontalents into talents is doomed to failure and will result in a “crushingly frustrating life.” Persistence directed primarily to your nontalents is self-destructive.
- The person ends up being characterized by those few areas where he struggles. The person ends up being and feeling defined by those things they don’t do well rather than things they can do well.
- This, in turn, harms the relationship. When we know someone else well and try to change them, we imply that we wish they weren’t the way they were. This feels awful and makes the relationship just as demotivating as the focus on our nontalents is weakening. This often proves the undoing of the relationship. Who likes being around people that are always pointing out what they do wrong? “Most often, a bad relationship is one where your partner came to know you very well indeed…and wished you weren’t that way.”
- It is demotivating. Working on your nontalents is demotivating because nontalents deplete rather than energize. Talents, on the other hand, are energizing and self-reinforcing. This creates an upward virtuous cycle, whereas focusing on your weaknesses creates a downward vicious cycle, which can in turn spread to other areas by undermining your self-efficacy.
- It implies that the person is to blame. Failing to know the difference between talents, knowledge, and skills, and that while skills and knowledge can be acquired, talents cannot, the manager relentlessly points out each employee’s nontalents in the belief that he can fix them and become well-rounded. “You just need to work at it.” The implicit message is that the employee can control the outcome if they just work hard. The responsibility is theirs. And therefore when this doesn’t work, when their nontalents fail to turn in to talents, the finger of blame is pointing at them. “By telling you that you can transform nontalents into talents, these less effective managers are not only setting you up to fail, they are intrinsically blaming you for your inevitable failure. This is perverse.”
Individualizing things. Thus, you must individualize autonomy.
Motivate Through Values
Tap the inherent worth of the task and mission of the organization to build intrinsic motivation.
“So much of excellence in performance has to do with people’s being motivated by compelling, simple—even beautiful—values.”
Why contingent rewards reduce motivation
Contingent rewards can destroy intrinsic motivation because they reduce autonomy, which is one of the three core components of motivation. (Note, however, that unexpected, non-contingent rewards do not.)
For the short term, you might increase performance through if-then extrinsic motivators. But in the long-term, you kill it. “Try to encourage a kid to learn math by paying her for each workbook page she completes—and she’ll almost certainly become more diligent in the short term and lose interest in math in the long term.”
Why traditional management undermines motivation
This has implications not only for rewards, but also our management theory—it is additional evidence that a command-and-control approach to management is bad, for it also reduces autonomy and thus motivation. Consequently, it will tend to result in lower performance in most cases.
It is Not that There is No Place for Extrinsic Rewards
Note that Pink is not arguing for the “basic evil of extrinsic incentives.” He states clearly “that’s just not empirically true.” His point is that “mixing rewards with inherently interesting, creative, or noble tasks—deploying them without understanding the peculiar science of motivation—is a very dangerous game. When used in these situations, ‘if-then’ rewards usually do more harm than good. By neglecting the ingredients of genuine motivation—autonomy, master, and purpose—they limit what each of us can achieve.”
Baseline rewards must be in place:
Of course the starting point for any discussion of motivation in the workplace is a simple fact of life: People have to earn a living. Salary, contract payments, some benefits, a few perks are what I call “baseline rewards.” If someone’s baseline rewards aren’t adequate or equitable, her focus will be on the unfairness of her situation and the anxiety of her circumstance. You’ll get neither the predictability of extrinsic motivation nor the weirdness of intrinsic motivation. You’ll get very little motivation at all.
But once we’re past that threshold, carrots and sticks can achieve precisely the opposite effect of their intended aims. Mechanisms designed to increase motivation can dampen it. Tactics aimed at boosting creativity can reduce it. Programs to promote good deeds can make them disappear. Meanwhile, instead of restraining negative behavior, rewards and punishments can often set it loose—and give rise to cheating, addiction, and dangerously myopic thinking.
Natural Rewards are Not Necessarily Extrinsic Rewards
Lewis’ point on natural connections. Christian hedonism is about motivation. The reward is to be the activity itself and the natural completions of it—deepened learning as the reward of study, satisfied customers as the reward of excellent customer service, or Lewis’ example of marriage as the reward for love.
We should not confuse the natural completions of an activity with extrinsic motivators.
Covey’s four levels
See document on the history of management.
Scientific Management and Motivation
Different management theories assume different theories of motivation. For example, scientific management ran on the assumption that humans are primarily economically motivated. But this of necessity fails to treat us as whole people, because biological and economic urges do not fully account for who we are. As a result, the principles and practice of scientific management are contrary to what it means to be a fully functioning, mature adult. Mature adults operate according to autonomy, for example—that’s part of what it means to be mature. But scientific management operated on a principle of control, which was primarily wielded through extrinsic motivation—rewarding the behavior the managers wanted, and punishing that which they didn’t.
The key point is that people are more than economic beings. They also seek purpose. If people were merely economic beings who dislike work and do so only to put food on the table, then you would need to coax them to work with extrinsic motivation and closely monitor them to make sure it got done. But people aren’t that way. They also seek purpose. We are “intrinsically motivated profit maximizers, not only extrinsically motivated profit maximizers.” And we need to recognize that in the way we manage and structure work. When work is creative and engaging and aligned with a person’s strengths, they don’t need to be directed; they are self-directed. You don’t need to figure out how to motivate people; you just need to ensure that the conditions exist where people are able to do what they are naturally motivated to do, and remove the obstacles that would interfere with this.
Why get paid at all?
Because the economic dimension and need is real. It must be met. It’s just that we are more than that.
Aren’t Some People Motivated Extrinsically?
Some people are motivated by money and extrinsic factors. This reflects that people are different. But, Pink argues, this facet of people can change—you can move from being primarily extrinsically motivated to being primarily intrinsically motivated. And, being intrinsically motivated is most in line with what it means to be human.
Believing that you are succeeding is a large cause of continuing success. Peters notes: “The old adage is ‘nothing success like success.’ It turns out to have a sound scientific basis. Researchers studying motivation find that the prime factor is simply the self-perception among motivated subjects that they are in fact doing well.” (58). And he quotes Warren Bennis, who mentions that in one study of teachers, “it turned out that when they held high expectations of their students, that alone was enough to cause an increase of 25% in the students’ IQ scores.” (59).
The Key is Self-Motivation
But the secret is to get people that are already motivated, that are self motivated, to do the things the organization wants. Then make sure that their goals and the organization’s overlap. Then ultimately motivate from principles, values, and meaning.
Remember Maslow here as well. The hierarchy. Self actualization and then self transcendence are the ultimate motivators. Create environments that tap into those levels, then give people the conditions for managing themselves. The manager then becomes a source of help and a coach.
Creating a Culture Where Self-Motivation Can Flourish
Plus Collins four points on creating a culture where self-motivation can flourish, from GTG. Summarized in Drive, 198.
Collins: “Expending energy trying to motivate people is largely a waste of time. If you have the right people on the bus, they will be self-motivated. The real question becomes: How do you manage in such a way as not to de-motivate people?” He gives four practices:
- Lead with questions, not answers.
- Engage in dialogue and debate, not coercion.
- Conduct autopsies, without blame.
- Build ‘red flag’ mechanisms. Make it easy for employees and customers to speak up when there is a problem.
Excellent performance comes when the person’s talents are matched with the role. Hence, “if you want to turn talent into performance, you have to position each person so that you are paying her to do what she is naturally wired to do. You have to cast her in the right role.” (Buckingham, 148).
Excellent managers are deliberate in discovering the strengths of their people. This comes in part through the strengths-based performance planning approach. But they also talk with each individual, “asking about strengths, weaknesses, goals, and dreams.” And they notice things, “taking note of the choices each makes, the way they all interact, who supports who, and why.”
In doing this, it often becomes apparent that some individuals are miscast—they have valuable talents but are not in a position to use them. “By repositioning each in a redesigned role, great manager are able to focus on each person’s strengths and turn talent into performance.”
Managing by Exception
Since everyone is different, it also follows that you need to treat everyone differently. Fairness does not mean treating everyone the same. It means treating everyone in accord with their own unique individuality. Treating everyone the same runs over our uniqueness, and thus fails to honor each person as an individual. That is one of the basic fallacies of the over-standardized, overly detached approach to HR and management that can be so common.
This means that a manager has to learn about each employee’s uniqueness. Know how your people are different, and then treat them as they would like to be treated. The Golden Rule—“do unto others as you would have them do unto you”—doesn’t mean that you assume everyone is like you. Rather, the way that we want people to treat us is to first understand us, and then treat us according to who we are. That is, likewise, how we ought to treat others and how managers ought to treat employees—understand them, and treat them according to their individuality.
Spend the Most Time with the Best People
By default, we tend to spend most of our time with the least productive and less of our time with the most productive. This seems safe and logical—the less productive need help, right? And the most productive are able to handle it on their own, right?
But this is actually contrary to the purpose of management. It assumes that the purpose of management is “to control or to instruct.” If that is at the core of management, then this does make sense—the least productive need more control and instruction.
But, as we’ve seen, the core of the management role is to turn talent into performance. This doesn’t happen primarily by controlling or instructing. It happens by positioning the person in the role such that they can call on their strengths most of the time, crafting a unique set of expectations that aligns with those strengths, and helping each employee understand his or her own unique style so that they can understand better why it works for them and how they can perfect it. And it happens by running interference for each employee so that their talents aren’t covered over by red tap and bureaucracy.
So when a manager spends time with his or her people, he is not primarily coaching and controlling, but rather “setting unique expectations, highlighting and perfecting individual styles, and running interference.” As a result, most time needs to be focused on the employees whose talent is showing the most potential, because talent is the multiplier. “The more energy and attention you invest in it, the greater the yield” (154).
Not Focusing on Your Best Can be Destructive
In fact, by paying the most attention to those who are struggling, you can actually end up altering the behavior of your stars. This is because things that receive less attention tend to die out, and things that receive more attention tend to increase. Thus, your stars may end up “doing less of what made them stars in the first place and more of other kinds of behaviors that might net some kind of reaction from you, good or bad.”
In other words, “no news is never good news. No news kills the very behaviors you want to multiply.” “In practical terms, then, great managers invest in their best because it is extremely productive to do so and actively destructive to do otherwise.”
Investing in Your Best is the Fairest Thing to Do
Each individual might value different kinds of attention, but, to a person, we all hate to be ignored. If love is no the opposite of hate, then surely indifference is the opposite of both. If you spend the most time with your worst performers, then the message you are sending to your employees is that “the better your performance becomes, the less time and attention you will receive from me, your manager.” From any angle, this is an odd message.
Investing in Your Best is the Best Way to Learn
The way to learn about what makes for excellent performance in a role is to watch those who are excellent in that role.
Our default thinking is sometimes that we can learn just as much by looking at those who are underperforming, identify what they are doing that hinders them, and then conclude that excellence means doing the opposite. But that is actually not the case.
Excellence is often not the opposite of bad. It turns out that those who are excellent in a role often share many traits with those who achieve poor performance in a role. The difference is often that those who are excellent in a role do something else that neutralizes those things.
For example, Gallup discovered that poor sales people suffered from call reluctance. So one might think that excellent sales people do not. And that would make a lot of sense. But it turns out that they do. The difference is that the excellent sales people also had the talent of confrontation, which enabled them to overcome their reluctance.
You cannot learn about the distinguishing features of excellence in a role, therefore, by simply studying poor performance and inverting it. Good is not the opposite of bad. The way to learn about excellence is to study excellence.
Investing in Your Best is the Only Way to Reach Excellence
It can be easy to fixate on what is “average” and gauge our expectations by it. The temptation is to compare each employee’s performance to what is average, and then help strugglers to get closer to average and leaving those who are above average to their own devices.
But this will be inherently limiting. Average should not be the bar against we measure performance. Excellence should be. Average is often far, far below what is possible. If we make it the measure, we often sell people short.
In fact, the greatest room for growth is usually in the employees who are already performing above average. And this is another reason why a manager should spend the most time with his best people. “If a manager is preoccupied by the burden of transforming strugglers into survivors by helping them squeak above ‘average,’ he will have little time left for the truly difficult work of guiding the good toward the great.”
Managing Around Weaknesses
Nonperformance will inevitably happen in some roles, and so we need to know how to deal with it. Here is how to handle nonperformance.
Nonperformance is not always the result of a non-talent. There are many factors other than lack of talent in an area where the role needs talent that can lead to nonperformance. These include mechanical causes, personal causes, lack of training, and the manager tripping the wrong trigger. Look to these causes first.
First, there are mechanical causes. This would be when, for example, the employee does not have the right equipment or information to do his job. If an employee is underperforming, first make sure that they have the tools they need.
Second, there are personal causes. They may be struggling with a difficult issue in their personal lives, such as a death in the family or health issues. There isn’t much you can do help solve these, other than being available to listen, but at least you will have an accurate understanding of what is causing the performance problem.
Third, the poor performance may be coming from a lack of training. Remember that strength is the combination of talent, skills, and knowledge. Talent is unchangeable, but skills and knowledge are not. If a person has a talent in an area but insufficient knowledge and skills, helping them get the training that they need can often remedy the situation.
Fourth, poor performance may be coming from the manager tripping the wrong triggers. This stems from the fact that people are motivated differently. So if a manager forgets this, he can easily be tripping the triggers that don’t sync with what actually motivates a person.
So not every performance issue is a talent issue, and the manager’s first responsibility is to investigate external causes such as the above. But if these factors do not seem to be the issue, it may be a talent issue.
Here it is important to distinguish between a nontalent and a weakness. Buckingham writes “A nontalent is a mental wasteland. It is a behavior that always seems to be a struggle. It is a thrill that is never felt. It is an insight recurrently missed.” Most nontalents are harmless. For example, if you have a nontalent for remembering names, but are not in a role that requires you to remember names, the nontalent is not an issue for your performance. All of us have a multitude of nontalents; we are fallen, we are imperfect, and most of all God simply created each of us differently and with different gifts. That is OK, and an eye should not wish it were a hand, and so forth.
A nontalent by itself, then, is not a weakness. “A nontalent becomes a weakness when you find yourself in a role where success depends on your excelling in an area that is a nontalent.” For example, for a server in a restaurant, a nontalent for remembering names is a weakness.
Nontalents by themselves can often be ignored; weaknesses should not be ignored. But what do you do about them? When the weakness is the result of a nontalent, you can’t just fix it—the talent cannot be magically added to the person’s personality. So instead, you have to work around the weakness. There are four main ways.
First, you can devise a support system. Spell check is one of the clearest examples of such a support system. Because of spell check, you don’t have to be great at spelling or proofreading. By using spell check, you can capture most (though not all) of the spelling errors in your document.
Second, you can find a complementary partner. This is the silent secret of some of the most successful, including Bill Gates (who found Paul Allen), Walt Disney (who found his brother, Roy), and Bill Hewlett and David Packard. “Each partnership was effective precisely because where one partner was blunt, the other was sharp. The partnerships were well-rounded, not the individuals.”
The partnering does not have to be formal. For example, if one person in a department is really energized with running reports, and another is not, it makes sense to shift that responsibility from the person that is depleted by it to the person that is energized by it.
“Since few people are a perfect fit for their role, the great manager will always be looking for ways to match up one person’s valleys with another person’s peaks” (171).
Third, you can tweak the role to make it fit the employee’s strengths more effectively. Roles are not rigid and inflexible things. Often, companies value standardized roles. The problem here is that this can easily run over each person’s individuality. It is often easier to change the role than the person. Obviously most roles cannot be changed in simply any way, so there is a limit to how much a role should be changed. But within those parameters, managers and employees should actively seek to tweak roles to call upon the strengths of people in them.
Tying it All Together In a Management Approach
To motivate people to peak performance, we first must find the areas where organizational needs and goals overlap individual needs, goals, and capabilities. We can then set up win-win agreements. Once these are established, people could govern or supervise themselves in terms of that agreement. We would then serve as sources of help and establish helpful organizational systems within which self-directing, self-controlling individuals could work toward fulfilling the terms of the agreement. Employees would periodically give an accountability for their responsibilities by evaluating themselves against the criteria specified in the win-win agreement.
 Stephen Covey, Principle-Centered Leadership, p. 190.
 See, for example, our discussion of scientific management in the document “Job Design: Every Job Meaningful.”
 Principle-Centered Leadership, 191.
 In Search of Excellence, 37.
 This is based upon analysis of 128 studies; Pink details some of the research behind this in chapter 2.
 Pink, 39. Extrinsic rewards can increase performance for algorithmic tasks—“those that depend on following an existing formula to its logical conclusion.” But they decrease performance for tasks that involve creating something new and managing ambiguity, which “demand flexible problem-solving, inventiveness, or conceptual understanding” (46). This is because of how rewards tend to narrow one’s focus. “Rewarded subjects often have a harder time seeing the periphery and crafting original solutions.”
 Pink, 49.
 Pink, 35.
 Principle-Centered Leadership, pp. 191-192.