Friday, March 6, 2015

Is Motivation Overrated?

I know what you're thinking (well maybe not really, but I'll guess), "that's a bit of an odd question."

Motivation is something we talk about a lot. And in the world in which I live -- talent management -- motivation is a big deal. We focus on key practices such as performance management or coaching in which motivation is critical.

In fact in my management development series, The Management Intensive, and management training workshops,  I say, "Motivation is a human resource. Many managers unknowingly squander or misuse it."

So, here's my answer to the question, "Is motivation overrated?" My answer is yes!  And here's why.  (By the way, I'm writing this on a Friday, the last day of a work week in which I'm typically the least naturally motivated).

First let's start by considering these 2 questions:

  • What's the point of motivation?  
  • Why is it needed?

Now,  of all the answers you'd come up, one has got to be to get stuff done, to accomplish something -- to get results.

So consider this. If the purpose and use of motivation is to get results, why shouldn't we just focus on the results -- you know focus on the end more than the means.

Here's an example. It's Friday, I don't feel very motivated. I can ask myself, "Ok, what would you like to get done today or what do you need to get done today? Awh, writing a blog post. But I'm not feeling very motivated."

That's ok for the moment. Now, two things can happen at this point -- we're at a fork in the road here.  I can begin to focus on my lack of motivation.  I've been down that road -- it's a bit demotivating.

Or, I can focus on the the blog post (the result) in this way: why it's a result for the day, why it matters, why it's on my to do list in the first place, why I bother writing, how much I want to say and feel that I got it done, what I want to express and why, the value it could bring to others, the thought of not getting anything done today...etc.

All of sudden I feel like writing and thoughts flow out onto the page.

Here's another example related to a team management practice I promote in my management training classes. The practice is conducting SWATs (short - worthwhile - appointed - times).  These are short stand up meetings where team members stand in a circle and communicate what's going on, what's needs to get done, any roadblocks to achieving the targeted goals, along with kudos and praise for accomplishments.

SWATS are conducted as way to create constructive public accountability and team synergy.  Because team members are focused on getting and reporting results at set times throughout the week, motivation rarely is mentioned or needs attention. The very structure of tight, public accountability and results orientation generates the motivation needed.

So there's two examples of how motivation was not so much the focus, but the outcomes or results were. And there in lies what I'd like to suggest. Focusing on results is more important than focusing on motivation. Focusing on the context and conditions to motivate is more useful than focusing on motivation itself.

There is a lot of talk in the HR, management and leadership world surrounding employee motivation. Might I suggest the emphasis is on the wrong thing? How about focusing on building a supportive, collaborative culture of results (context and conditions) rather making motivation itself the focus. Motivation is overrated!

Here's the link to the article on motivation that motivated me to write this post: Killing the 7 Motivation Murderers   (Yes, I wrote it that way on purpose).

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