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The Not So Shocking Truth: 3 things to stop doing that undermine Optimal Motivation

Susan Fowler Posted by Susan Fowler.

Susan Fowler is the author of Why Motivating People Doesn't Work...And What Does as well as several articles on the topic of motivation.


The Not So Shocking Truth: 3 things to stop doing that undermine Optimal Motivation

“Shocking! This is shocking.” The manager was responding to a slide on the screen that declared: As a manager you cannot motivate anyone.

“Shocking,” he exclaimed again before I could put up the second part of the slide. I asked the obvious question, “Why is this so shocking?” His reply: “My whole career I have been told my job was to motivate my people, now you tell me I can’t. No wonder I’ve been so frustrated.”

I revealed the second part of the slide: What managers can do is create an environment where people are more likely to experience optimal motivation at work.

Now this may not seem so shocking if you accept that motivation is truly an inside-out job–only an individual can determine how they are motivated. And it may be obvious that a manager’s role is to create a workplace where people can experience positive motivation. But the manager’s initial shock led to an exploration of the latest science of motivation that you might also find useful.

Over the years it has become evident that most managers do not understand how to create that motivating environment. Throwing their arms up in despair, they assumed motivating people depended on things mostly outside their managerial control such as good wages, promotions, and job security. Managers defaulted to HR to come up with better compensation schemes, more creative reward and recognition systems, and elite high potential programs.

But now we know better. If you hope to motivate–or create that motivational environment–for your staff through raises, bonuses, annual awards, or promotions, you are pinning your hopes on false promises. I can hear HR managers breathing a collective sigh of relief at the same time as they are thinking: But what do managers do differently?

Here are three things to stop doing that undermine optimal motivation and how to use the new science of motivation to make a positive difference:

  1. Stop depending on your authority and hierarchical power and find ways to give your people a greater sense of autonomy. Start giving people a sense of choice by helping them generate alternative actions and solutions, discussing implications for various approaches to problems, and providing freedom within boundaries whenever possible.
  2. Stop thinking business isn’t personal. Turn the old axiom around: If it is business, it must be personal. Learn how to have effective challenging conversations, take note of personal issues that may be influencing a person’s performance on any given day, and be willing to share personal stories that are relevant to work and goals.
  3. Stop focusing on what was achieved today and ask instead: What did people learn today? One of the greatest joys of being a manager is also being a great teacher. If your people go home each day having learned one new thing, they will not be the only ones feeling rewarded that day–you will also find a greater sense of accomplishment and purpose in your work.

The good news is that through the latest science of motivation, we have a good, solid, research-based understanding of what motivates people in the workplace. The other good news is that managers can use that understanding to help their people enjoy a higher quality motivational work experience. And that’s the maybe not-so-shocking truth about motivation.

About the author:

Susan Fowler is one of the principal authors—together  with David Facer and Drea Zigarmi—of The Ken Blanchard Companies’ new Optimal Motivation process and workshop.  Their posts appear on the first and third Monday of each month.