I would like a dollar for every time a manager has asked me for help to motivate their staff.
My answer is always the same, “your staff are already motivated. They don’t need motivating. They just need you, as their manager, to set an environment where they can all be engaged.”
Like schoolteachers and parents, most managers think of staff as children who need either a carrot or a stick to perform. Nothing could be further from the truth. Kids have a natural desire to learn, to find out about the world around them and to participate with others on the learning journey.
Adults are the same, they love to learn, to grow and develop their knowledge and talents. They want to be good at what they do, regardless of whether they are labouring away in a mine or conducting open-heart surgery.
People are intrinsically motivated to do well but most organisations place so many policy and procedure barriers in their way that all discretionary effort is lost and staff end up doing the bare minimum. Keeping an eye on the clock, ready to leave at the first opportunity.
Alfie Kohn explains human motivation well in his book, Punished by Rewards, where he describes how both external carrots and sticks, as ways of manipulating human behaviour, destroy personal motivation. He cites many studies that show all punishment is destructive and all external reward systems create long-term damage, especially when the task is already intrinsically motivating. That’s why the team at Perception Mapping find so many professional people, like engineers in construction companies and doctors in hospitals, disenchanted and demotivated. They love their work but are weighed down by the reward and punishment manipulation.
Kohn cites over 70 studies showing extrinsic motivators, like praise and more money, are not merely ineffective over the long term but counterproductive. Other studies show that when people are offered a reward for doing a task that involves a degree of problem solving or creativity or just for doing it well, they will tend to do lower quality work than those offered no reward and are operating on the purely intrinsic motivators of fun and engagement. The authors of the bestselling book Influencer: The Power to Change Anything call intrinsic motivation the first and most powerful source of energy.