One of the most misunderstood statements is that “we need to motivate them.” Wrong, in the sense that no one can motivate someone else. They can only create an environment in which a person can become motivated. Motivation is a self-induced condition.
Having said that, I would offer three of the most common motivational conditions that work.
Fear (or a crisis): Fear is a great short-term motivator, but it tires people and wears them out fairly fast. Anxiety is no motivator at all until it is converted to fear—of something, some problem, some crisis or some condition—about which “something” can be done. Once people move from just being anxious to being afraid, then they can address the reasons for their fear and try to do something about them.
But remember, both fear and a crisis wears on people and if progress in some degree is not realized, then people become demotivated—they despair. Leaders and managers who manage by fear and intimidation might get impressive immediate results, but those results will not be sustainable over longer periods of time. Experts who studied the “carrot and stick” attempts at motivation proved this over and over.
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Competition: This one works for a sustained period of time. Ask any competitive athlete. When there is worthy competition, the competitive spirit of people (and organizations) becomes energized. This is a powerful motivational tool, and one that every leader should understand how to employ.
The only caveat here is when the competition is so overwhelmingly good that it seems unbeatable, this can discourage people. Or, when competition is so weak or inept that winning against it is easy; there, people can become complacent. In both cases the motivational value of competition is diminished, and loses some of its motivational power.
Pride: Pride is a motivational tool that works and works and works. Most people want “to be the best” at whatever they do—down deep anyway—unless they realistically fear they cannot be. Thus the challenge for leaders is to create a credible basis for motivation based on pride, excellence and superior performance.
Pride works in developing any kind of “campaign,” whether it is sales, marketing, new product development, operational improvement or simply getting the best possible team together.
The important point to remember is that motivation is all about human behavior and Maslow’s hierarchy rules. Few people can move toward Maslow’s ultimate behavioral result—self-actualization—when they are worried about survival, shelter, sustenance, etc.
This takes us right back to the start. To create an environment in which people can become motivated, leaders can move through the steps: first convert anxiety to fear; solve the imminent crisis. Then focus on competing, and choose competitive targets wisely and well. Finally, appeal to pride of accomplishment.
Problems of anxiety and fear will pop up and need to be put in their place again. Competition is ever-present, and wins are often only temporary victories that will need to be repeated over and over.
Finally, pride can be very effective when people believe that success is possible and achievable and this, in the end, is the real job of leaders in any field—to choose the playing fields on which they can win, and then engage the people to perform (be motivated) at the highest level possible. Then the continued pride of achievement can sustain their motivation.
Once an individual or group has “won” and achieved success, they will not want to “lose” or give it up. That motivation can last a long, long time.