Employees, spouses, kids — what does it take to get people motivated so you don’t have to nag them?
Motivation is powerful. It predicts success better than intelligence, ability, or salary.
1) Stop Bribing Them
When actors would ask the great film director Alfred Hitchcock “What’s my motivation?” he would reply, “Your salary.”
Rewards definitely work.
But as Dan Pink explains in Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us there’s a problem with this equation:
Rewards just motivate people to get rewards.
When the rewards go away, people stop.
And if you want anything other than basic manual labor — if you want creative work or analytical work — rewards can actually backfire.
Dan Pink explains here:
Yes, you need to pay people but you should pay them just enough to take the issue of money off the table.
Pink shows that for complex tasks we’re more motivated by the need for autonomy, mastery and purpose.
So if rewards are problematic, what does work?
2) Make Them Feel Something
We often talk about people being motivated by revenge, jealousy, fear, passion… What do these have in common?
Yeah, they’re all feelings. And they’re all powerful motivators.
We rarely do anything we don’t feel and it’s very hard to resist things we do feel. It’s how your brain is structured.
Chip and Dan Heath sum up the research in their book Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard:
We often think of the workplace as less emotional, more formal and serious. And as far as motivation goes, that’s a terrible idea.
What strategies really improve organizations? Research involving 400 people across 130 companies came up with a simple answer:
You must change individual behavior by addressing employee feelings.
So what’s the most powerful thing for people to be feeling if you want to increase motivation?
3) Emphasize Progress
Harvard’s Teresa Amabile‘s research found that nothing is more motivating than progress.
A consistent amount of minor success produces much more happiness than occasionally bagging an elephant.
You want a steady amount of challenge, achievement and feedback:
Progress is powerful. Encourage people to reflect on how far they’ve come and the good work they’ve done.
That’s not indulgent or fluffy — persistent people spend twice as long thinking about their accomplishments.
Dan Ariely, author of Predictably Irrational, explains how when we feel no progress, when we feel our work is futile, motivation dies:
So you made them feel something. You demonstrated progress. How do you keep the motivation flowing?
4) Form a Cult (Well, Almost)
Not literally. No funky robes or animal sacrifice necessary. But what else unites a cult?
Shared belief. A story.
Venture Capitalist Ben Horowitz explains that the best work cultures are actually cults: a group unified by a provocative idea.
Institutions that can communicate a compelling historical narrative often inspire a special kind of commitment among employees. It is this dedication that directly affects a company’s success and is critical to creating a strong corporate legacy…
In his book Leading Minds: An Anatomy Of Leadership Howard Gardner says “stories are the most powerful weapon in the leader’s literary arsenal.”
One of the reasons Lincoln was such a good president was because he was a great storyteller.
So how do you craft a good story that unites and motivates people?
Simon Sinek, author of Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action, has an interesting theory:
People are engaged and motivated by why we do things more than what we do.
All motivating messages, from Apple’s marketing to Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech, do the same thing: They start with “Why.”
Research actually shows nagging works:
Managers who are deliberately redundant as communicators move their projects forward more quickly and smoothly than those who are not.
But have you ever accomplished your best work because someone nagged you? I didn’t think so.
Here’s what to do instead:
- Stop Bribing
- Make Them Feel Something
- Emphasize Progress
- Start A Cult — (With A Story)
Good thinking starts with strong feelings.
This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.
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