You can hardly pick up a magazine without reading the latest new idea about how to motivate either yourself or the people around you. However, despite millions of words, small armies of motivational speakers and David Brent wannabes alive and well up and down the country delivering pep talks, lack of motivation is still one of the biggest issues we see when working with individuals, teams or entire organisations.
It’s not hard to see why. Travelling on the tube in London, you only have to open your eyes to see millions of miserable people dragging themselves into work. Also, research shows that despite unheralded wealth and access to greater resources than ever before, working people are less happy than in previous times. Clearly, the additional effort put into motivation is not working.
Many people still believe that motivation is a personality trait – that “you’ve either got it or you haven’t” – but, as those with whom we work know, using 30 years of research into how motivation really works, motivation is a little more complex.
Reflect on your own motivation. Are there activities you engage in simply because you’re passionate about them? What about those where you’re only there because you’re being paid, or because you’ll feel guilty if you aren’t?
Why we do what we do differs enormously between people and tasks. The one-size-fits-all solutions may help lazy managers put a tick in the box, but they don’t work because we are humans, not machines. Anyone serious about performance understands that the answer lies in understanding the true nature of motivation.
The more that motivation is internal – “I do it because I love it”, or “It’s part of who I am” – the higher the quality of performance. In contrast, when motivation is external – “If I don’t do it I’ll feel guilty”, or “If I do it I’ll get a reward” – the opposite happens.
Motivation is driven by three basic needs: for autonomy, for confidence in skills, and for strong relationships where people feel supported and valued. The more these needs are met, the more motivation is internal and performance is enhanced. If not met, motivation has to come from the outside and performance suffers. At a team level you can greatly influence the quality of motivation by creating the right environment. Internally, motivated teams have higher levels of interest, excitement and confidence and perform better as a result. So instead of offering to improve the bonus scheme, deliver better performance by ensuring you and your team have as much autonomy as possible, feel confident in the jobs to be done and have adequate emotional support. It will cost less and the results will be better.
Some believe that people are motivated purely by material rewards – getting out of bed because of the salary, the big car, the holiday home and the annual bonus. So at what point does the reason they get out of bed begin to control them? Our experience is that the best performances do not result from people who feel strongly controlled. The gold standard of motivation comes from the inside.
Keith Hatter is chief executive officer of K2 Performance Systems