Your Favorite Radio Station: WIIFM

by Geof Lory, PMP

When my daughters were younger, I coached their sports teams. Mostly, I coached soccer because that was my favorite sport growing up and one I felt reasonably competent at. If you have been fortunate enough to coach young children, you know that motivation is key to a successful season, which is often defined more by the after game treats than the number of victories. The same is true if you are in a project management role. Surprisingly, the challenges are not as different as the ages of the team members. The treats are though.

In the last article I talked about providing motivation, along with creating commitment and instilling confidence. These three elements of leadership need to tap into the personal drivers if people are going to bring their best to the team. In this article I will explain further what I believe motivates team members and some techniques for providing that motivation.

To set the stage for techniques in motivating, it is important to understand not specifically what physical things or actions motivate people, but the drivers behind motivation that are at the root of the energy of the motivation. For this I use a four-quadrant matrix, because my mind needs to simplify things to remember and understand them at a basic level. To create the matrix the Y-axis is the "perceived outcome" ranging from pain to pleasure and the X-axis is "source," either internal or external.

This matrix is based on two premises. First, you can't make anyone do anything. Secondly, control is an illusion. (See an earlier article on this subject and the lesson I learned the first time I tried feeding my daughter strained peas.) If you buy into these beliefs, I think you will find this matrix useful. If you don't, you probably do not believe that in every situation people make their own choices, even if the choices are limited. I have found that this belief eventually degrades to a sense of victimization, which opposes personal accountability and motivation. It will also require more of your time to manage and follow up on activities at a painfully micro level: two things most project managers and parents are not looking for.

Simply stated, people do things to avoid pain or receive pleasure, and the source of the projected future pleasure or pain can come from within or outside. Understanding these simple dimensions of motivation, and the associated effort and results of using each, will allow you to tailor your motivation techniques to the readiness of the person or group you are working with.

External/Pain – This may be the motivation we are most familiar with as both parents (or children growing up) and project managers in highly traditional organizations. It is a fear-based motivation. It works best when people's choices are perceived as limited. Ironically, if used enough, this eventually turns into a demotivator. It has its place, but usually for short periods of time while boundaries are being established or the recipient is disconnected enough from the purpose of the motivation to be otherwise compelled to put forth the effort.

Unfortunately, this is the most commonly used motivation approach and the greatest contributor to the dysfunctional behavior in organizations and families. It is old world and requires continual work to limit choices for those being motivated so the illusion of control is maintained. The eventual codependency between manager/parent (motivator) and employee/child (victim) results in decreased performance, fueling the belief that more pain needs to be inflicted to get results. The minute choices become apparent, people rebel. History is filled with examples.

External/Pleasure – This is the politically correct twin sister of the External/Pain approach, or the other half of the carrot/stick method of motivation. Incentive plans and reward programs are all methods to entice people to perform better. Most parents today would never inflict corporal punishment on their children, as was the norm just a generation ago. In the workplace it is hopefully completely non-existent. However, bribery is alive and well. Straight As earns you a car, keeping your room clean gets you an iPod, agreeing with the boss equals two atta-boys and maybe a promotion.

These programs can be very effective and are typically seen as more positive than the pain approach, but they still require continual external maintenance. Like a drug, the dose has to be increased as the recipient becomes progressively needier. What was once a motivator becomes an expectation, and the sense of entitlement can grow as performance decreases. External motivation, as described here, implies that the removal of the external stimulus removes the motivation.

Internal/Pain or Pleasure – The line between pleasure and pain is more difficult to determine when the source of the motivation is internal. One person's pleasure may be another person's pain. This is because the pleasure is tied to the passions, talents and needs of each individual. Stephen Covey, in his book The 8th Habit, refers to this as the voice. James Hillman called it your soul's code and Dick Richard refers to it as your genius. It is the essence of who we are and who we desire to become. Tapping into someone's inner voice is key to motivating at a self-sustaining level. Honoring it is pleasurable, dishonoring it produces pain. Understanding it is the challenge.

Let's look at some ways to do that.

First: Focus on others. You can't hear other's inner voice if yours is always talking. Stop, look, listen, a great childhood mantra, is appropriate in the work place, too. As a project coach, I listen for what people are passionate about, not just on the surface, but below, at their core. I look for what they are good at or have potential for. And I am aware of the needs of the project.

Then: Create challenges that marry talent, passion and need. Someone's inner voice is at the juncture where their talents and passions meet a need. If you are going to be successful at motivating from the inside out, you will have to find that crossroad. Most people will jump at the chance to display or at least use talents they are passionate about.

Talent: Know their capabilities and potential. People may be passionate about something, but their ability to effectively deliver will be determined by their talent. Competency is built through practice and trial and error. Don't be afraid to let a team member venture beyond their current limits into their potential. The learning process itself is a huge motivator for most high performers.

Passion: Tap their emotional energy. If talent is the engine, passion is the fuel. Without it, you go nowhere. While talent can be more empirically measured, passion is more ephemeral. So, don't try to guess. Just ask, "What are you passionate about?" It may sound odd the first time you try it, and you may choose to use other words to express it, but ask your team mates what they dream of, what gets them up in the morning. Then find a way to tap into that.

Need: Value their contributions. Passion and talent are great, but they have to be directed at a contribution to the project. A fueled engine without the rest of the vehicle just makes a lot of noise. Put the engine to work on something that produces value, and then recognize the contribution. Recognition re-energizes the passion and builds confidence in the talent.

This fall my oldest daughter will go away to college. She may receive external motivation from us periodically, but her daily motivation is going to have to come from within. I have to trust she will do just fine. She has a loud inner voice. I know, I've heard it.

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