Do You Know The Motivation Twins?

Pleasure, not coercion, is the way to most deeply transform people
Matthew Fox

Sometimes life throws up difficult questions like “What exactly is blu-tac made of?” or “What does the government actually do with half my salary?” but one that bothers a lot of managers is How can I motivate my people?

Whether you formally manage a team or not there are lots of people in your life that it would be handy to motivate, people like your partner, children, boss, colleagues or utility suppliers!

So how do you do it?

Look around you at the people you know and you’ll see there is no shortage of motivation, people are busy doing stuff everywhere -planning holidays, doing hobbies, running clubs and organisations, learning new skills, exploring the world - in fact everywhere apart from work.

What’s driving all this activity and what drives you to do the things you do (or don’t do)?

At a basic, chemical and unconscious level two powerful forces drive our actions - the desire to avoid pain and the desire to experience pleasure. These are the motivation twins and they can help you to motivate others (if you’ll let them). They are assisted by their big sister - Connie - who represents the fundamental need that we all have to connect with each other and contribute.

Take starting a new job, for instance.

On their first day, most people are slightly apprehensive, wondering whether they will fit in and they turn up with a genuine desire to make a contribution and do a good job. In other words they are looking to gain pleasure from the experience.

When you meet them 12 months later however many of them will be displaying all the signs of pain avoiding behaviour - toeing the line, doing just enough, keeping their head down etc. At 5pm they’ll go home and pour their energy, creativity and enthusiasm into their private life.

I often have the privilege of working with people who are leaving their organisation. This year I've been in companies as diverse as Royal Mail, Vodafone and HSBC. The most striking thing is that the people I meet all have one thing in common - they have reached a threshold where the pain of staying is greater than the pain of leaving and they are on the way out. It’s rare to meet someone who has made a positive choice to create something new and grabbed the opportunity.

What’s happened?

Let’s face it, many of our organisations are not places that create pleasure for us. How many of your rules, internal procedures and team approaches are based on the premise that we’ll get people to do what we want by making any transgression very painful? I guess this is the default position of most organisations - make stepping out of line so painful that people don’t do it.

The problem with this approach is that they don’t do much else either.

People will avoid pain but the behaviour you get is avoidance behaviour and NOT the creativity, energy and enthusiasm that you really want.

To get those, you have to give people pleasure so that they’ll want to move towards more of it. This can be as simple as giving them your 100% attention when they want to talk to you (see LCT 72 - AboutBob) right up to allowing them the opportunity to connect with and contribute to something greater than themselves.

As a first step, have a think about the people you’d like to motivate. You’ll find if you look and listen carefully that some people (like me) are more motivated by avoiding pain while others are more motivated by the prospect of gaining pleasure. And you’ll also find that your motivational style with others will be the one that you tend to use with yourself.

Put another way, some are more motivated by what they don’t want(they focus on the pain and avoid it) while others are more motivated by what they do want (they focus on the pleasure to gain and move towards it).

I remember having a budget meeting with my team where I was going on at length about the consequences of not doing something. Many of them were getting very motivated by this, as I was, but there was one person sitting opposite me whose motivation, I could see, was draining away the more I talked. I watched, helplessly, as I managed to end the meeting by having removed her motivation completely.

Why? Because she was someone who loved targets, who loved achievement, who appreciated the thrill of coming first or defeating a large problem. This is what motivated her, everyday, and all I had done was go on about the consequences of failure.

I learned a lesson that day. How about you? Take sometime to look and listen to those you’d like to motivate - do they prefer to avoid pain or like to gain pleasure? One easy way to tell is the listen to the first thing they say when you ask about the weekend. If they mention what they didn’t like first, it’s a big clue that you have someone who is focussed on what they don’t want.

Next week, we’ll look at more practical motivation steps and in the meantime, have fun looking and listening - how would your people like to be motivated? (you might even want to ask them :)