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An Author Day Blog by Charlotte Ashlock
Legions of middle managers are told, “Your job is to motivate your people.” I think immediately of my father trying to get us kids out the door in an efficient fashion when we were little. He’d always complain, “It’s like herding cats!” I wonder if the managers feel like they are herding cats for a living. To me, that sounds like decades of frustration and despair.
Enter Susan Fowler, a new Berrett-Koehler Author with a book titled, “Why Motivating People Doesn’t Work… and What Does.” She says when she gives her trainings on motivation, and tells the managers, “You can’t motivate anyone,” they are literally crying out with relief. For years they have been burdened with an impossible expectation, and finally someone has acknowledged it is impossible.
As one of the manuscript reviewers for Susan’s book said, “Your book title is a real neck-grabber!”
“The question, -Are you motivated?’ is ridiculous,” Susan Fowler told us on her Author Day. “The truth is, you’re always motivated, just in different ways. When you ask -Yes/No’ questions like that, the responses never include that valuable subjective information that helps us really understand people.”
Most managers already know that bribery doesn’t really work. The managers keep on using the carrots & sticks because they don’t know what else to try. Susan Fowler’s book finally offers a long sought-after alternative. She recommends honest, open conversations with your direct reports to help you understand the motivations they ALREADY have, and tap into them.
Bribes and punishments are used to create “external” or “imposed” motivation, types of motivation which Susan considers inferior. “Say you give the highest-performing salesman a trip to the Caribbean,” she said. “What if next year, the best you can afford is a trip to Florida, and people feel cheated? What if all the middle-performing salesmen completely give up on winning the trip?”
Optimal motivation, Susan Fowler explains, is “aligned,” or “integrated” motivation; people feeling motivated because their activities link to their values or their life purpose. (For example, I’m optimally motivated to sell Berrett-Koehler books, because I think the books are helping to change the world in positive ways!)
Our VP of Production, Rick Wilson, asked Susan to give an example of her theory in action. Susan said, “Well, why don’t I talk about the perfect example of how you just motivated me.” Susan said previous publishers had just handed her deadlines without explaining the logic behind them. In contrast, Rick had sat down with her and explained how the whole production schedule of her book worked, from start to finish.
With Rick’s approach, Susan was able to see how meeting her deadlines set the proofreaders, book designers, and printers into action. Instead of using “imposed” motivation- “You have to make these deadlines!” Rick tapped into Susan’s integrated motivation to make her book the best product it could possibly be.
What are the motivations which pre-exist within all humans? Everyone has a desire for autonomy (choice and control), a desire for relatedness (social connection and respect) a desire for competency (a need to do things well). These are basic psychological needs. Layered on top of this, people have frameworks of beliefs and values which they use to self-regulate. They key to motivation, as with so many other things, is understanding. Understanding the interplay of these forces within each separate individual.
Susan’s book finally sets the managers free from herding cats, and gives them a new and more possible mission: connecting the threads of meaning.