What motivates you at work? Here are six possibilities

In a recent webinar on A Closer Look at the New Science of Motivation, best-selling business author Susan Fowler opened with an interesting question for attendees, “Why are you here?”  And it wasn’t just a rhetorical question.  Fowler wanted attendees to take a minute and assess what their motivation was for attending.  Here’s what she identified as possible answers.

  1. I am not really here. (Well, maybe my body is, but my mind is elsewhere.)
  2. I am being paid to be here. (And if I wasn’t being paid—or receiving some other type of reward—I wouldn’t be here.)
  3. I have to be here; I’d be afraid of what might happen if I wasn’t.
  4. Being here aligns with my values and will help me and my organization reach important goals.
  5. Being here resonates with me; I feel it could make an important difference to others in my organization and/or help me fulfill a meaningful purpose.
  6. I am inherently interested in being here; it is fun for me.

A quick survey found that people were attending for a variety of reasons including all six of the possible choices above. Fowler went on to explain that the first three choices were all “Sub Optimal” motivational outlooks that generated poor results. She also shared that outlooks 4, 5 and 6 were the “Optimal” motivational outlooks that most closely correlated with intentions to perform at a high level, apply discretionary effort, and be a good corporate citizen.

What motivates you?

What’s motivating you on your tasks at work?  Is it a “carrot” (External #2) or a “stick” (Imposed #3) approach?  If so, what’s the impact been on your motivation and performance?  Chances are that you’re not performing at your best.  Even worse, you could find yourself feeling somewhat manipulated and controlled, which rarely brings out the best in people.

For better results, think about what it might mean to employ a more Aligned, Integrated, or Inherent approach.  Find ways to connect the dots for yourself to create a more intrinsically satisfying strategy.

3 ways to enhance motivation

Fowler suggests beginning by evaluating the quality of A-R-C in your life.  Looking back at over 40 years of motivation research, Fowler shared that the answer to creating a more motivating environment is a combination of increased Autonomy (control of your experiences), Relatedness (working together with others), and Competence (developing and refining new skills).  The good news is that anyone can change their motivational outlook with some self-awareness and self-regulation.

Could you use a little more motivation in your life?   Most of us could.  To find out more about Fowler’s thinking on motivation and bringing out the best in yourself and others, be sure to check out Fowler’s free, on-demand webinar recording, A Closer Look at the New Science of Motivation.  You’ll discover some of the common mistakes people make when it comes to motivation and what you can do to improve your outlook.  Recorded on October 3 for an audience of 700 participants, the download is free, courtesy of Cisco WebEx and The Ken Blanchard Companies.

10 thoughts on “What motivates you at work? Here are six possibilities

  1. Fantastic article – I particularly enjoyed the candid responses on attendance of events and how this matches up with work attitudes. I’d be interested to understand how attitudes can be changed towards jobs. There are very few people out there who are passionate about what they do which is a shame. Picking out the engaged vs the “just need a job” may be difficult to identify when appointing or interviewing candidates for a new role.

    • It’s an interesting question about whether people come into a job engaged. In my experience, most people do–they are excited to have the position, believe it is a good fit for them, and feel that they have something to contribute. The challenge for organizations is how to keep creating and recreating an engaging work environment. Employees have the same challenge–constantly looking for ways to re-engage themselves in their work like they did when they first started.

    • How can attitudes toward jobs be changed? Quite simply.

      As David said below, when we join a company we are excited, engaged, and motivated to contribute. Soon after joining, we find out that management does not want to know what we have to offer and only wants to give us orders while expecting us to do well. No one likes to take orders, especially from people who don’t seem to care about us.

      So all management has to do is to stop doing whatever it is that demotivates and disengages us. Essentially, that means no longer using command and control but its opposite, call it autonomy and support. The last time I did that as an executive my workforce became highly motivated, highly committed, and fully engaged with sky high morale and innovation literally loving to come to work and at least 300% more productive than when poorly engaged.

      I would add that the competence, autonomy, and relatedness mentioned by Susan Fowler and originated by researchers Edward Deci and Richard Ryan as what motivates us all hits the mark perfectly. To give us autonomy and relatedness, we need to be treated with respect and our concerns heard as often as we have them. Not listening to employees, issuing an unending stream of orders from on high, and failing to provide them with whatever information they want are what is terribly wrong with top-down.

  2. I am where I am today because I have point-blank refused to listen to anyone telling me the path I was on was the wrong one. Or go to conferences where so called “experts” and “Life Coaches” were only there for one reason: To increase their wealth and be seen as someone in the eyes of the world.

    • Dear OMO–Dad, is that you? Just kidding! I appreciate the stick-to-it-iveness and self belief that you are describing. That is a hallmark of all high achievers. I’m not sure if it is necessary to discount advice from others–unless you do get a sense that the advice is strictly for self-serving purposes. In my experience, very few coaches survive for long with that attitude.

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