Motivation: How to organize work to make it count?

  • Scope:
  • Culture and People
motivation aspects

This is my first story from the topic of coaching/psychology/business/goals and such. I wanted to start with values, but after a brief attempt, the topic seemed too difficult for me to adequately explain. So I decided to start with a few words on motivation.

After all, I’ve been thinking about writing for about four months now. I waited for motivation to arrive like a knight on a white horse, but that never really happened. Then I realized the reason for my lack of motivation and looked elsewhere to better understand my needs, hidden behind the idea of writing.

Action and motivation

Do you start with feeling motivated before you do anything or do you find your motivation after doing something? Let me share a short story with you.

We’ve been talking about starting a band for at least two years at Tooploox. We were waiting for the impulse to arrive so we could gather and play something. But only after creating a goal (“let’s play something for Women’s Day”) we were able to try it out and find the motivation to continue doing it. Now we have regular rehearsals every week, even though it’s uncertain if we’re ever going to have another gig. Let’s say you start a band yourself. How do you feel before the first rehearsal — motivated or anxious?

To me, it was more anxious and afraid than anything else. I’ve never played with this new crew, I had a list of things that could go wrong — it was difficult. But I had a few reasons why I wanted to do it:

  • more contact with people,
  • practicing the instrument I’d stopped playing, and the most important:
  • the idea of doing something surprising for the ladies in our company.

So before the first act, it’s more of a calculated decision of profit vs costs. It goes down to the roots of our needs and values, which are the generators of our goals. You pick the easiest strategy you can find to fulfill that need and you try to do it.

In our case, the magic happened after the first rehearsal.

Your motivation is an effect of feedback, that you give to yourself, on the results you get while working on achieving a goal. If this feedback says “it’s interesting, enjoyable, meaningful,” then it’s called intrinsic motivation. Does this mean that all the results are positive? Well, I didn’t say that… Can all the notes be in tune in the very first band rehearsal?

Waiting for motivation to appear is like waiting for the other person to say “I love you” first — it may never happen. Having that in mind, picking the first micro-goal is crucial. If it’s too hard, you may never start. On the other hand — if it’s too easy, the feedback you give yourself afterward will not have any motivating value. If it’s too easy, anyone could do it — right?

Self- vs external- motivation

OK, but I’ve only mentioned intrinsic motivation. What about the external motivation, you ask? In simple words — it’s our reaction to the promise of reward or punishment. Psychologists call it extrinsic motivation.

There are many management tools that are in use to encourage people: commissions, deadlines, regular prizes for results, penalties for not delivering results, reprimands, assessments — you name it.

Some might say — hey, but those work! There are a set of great articles on what works and when. The takeaway from it is: it only works if someone’s hovering over your shoulder checking on everything you do. Otherwise, the behavior vanishes. Another aspect is when external triggers are applied to goals that benefit from intrinsic motivation, they interfere. The results depend on the motivator.

Below you can find a few examples of external motivators and their impact on intrinsic motivation.

There is one important aspect of intrinsic motivation — research shows it yields better results. However, intrinsic motivation works only for activities that are novel and challenging (and in line with personal preference). You can think of it like the things which cause your personal development.

There are plenty of activities that aren’t novel nor challenging nor interesting for some people, but still, help them – e.g. reading books recommended by a teacher may not always be interesting or novel, but it will help you grow. How to find reasons for reading? Answering that requires a better understanding of the types of external triggers and how they impact a person’s motivation.

Ways to motivate

There are four basic types of motivation categorized as extrinsic and all are a part of modern management. The metric behind each category is how much a person considers the trigger helpful in their development plan.

If you look at the examples shown above, you may find them quite interesting. This, joined with the table about the impact of external triggers, says a lot about methods and strategies that companies could use to leverage human potential and achieve long term goals. Doing it requires an understanding of the needs and goals of people and how they can contribute to the strategy of the organization. In this way, you can set goals for the company that are achievable with the people on board.

Otherwise, there is a risk of creating false goals that will never be completed. Or you can start forcing people into it with external regulation. That can eventually lead to burnout, increased turnover and a company culture that doesn’t help anyone.

There are plenty of materials about motivation and I highly recommend reading them:

Also published on Medium.

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