Why Motivating People Doesn’t Work…and What Does: Susan Fowler on Understanding the Science of Motivation

Susan Fowler podcast on Optimal Motivation in Business

In this episode, Susan Fowler explores how most companies expect managers to motivate their people to accomplish goals. Managers may try many different methods to encourage people to reach their goals, from rewards and recognition to pressure and intimidation. But research indicates that these methods just don’t work. “When did we get to the point that people have to be motivated by carrots and sticks—carrots representing incentives or bribes, and sticks representing pressure, threats and tension?” asks Fowler.

Many people may not be aware of new research showing that the real secret to motivation is creating an environment where people are optimally motivated to perform at their highest level.

“Look at your own beliefs,” says Fowler. “Do you think people are basically lazy and won’t do what you want them to do, or do you believe people want to thrive and make a contribution in their role? Do you believe people are more motivated extrinsically or intrinsically?”

Research indicates that people want to thrive and that intrinsic rewards are more sustainably motivating than extrinsic rewards. Problems arise when managers don’t believe people want to succeed or when they default to extrinsic reward systems to improve performance.

Fowler describes three conversations managers can have with direct reports. Each includes a separate set of questions to help analyze a direct report’s motivation on certain projects or tasks. The first set of questions gets to the root of the psychological need for autonomy: does the direct report feel good or bad about the choices available to them on their task? Everyone needs a sense of control over what they do. The second set of questions focuses on the psychological need for connection or relatedness and helps identify values and purpose. The third set of questions relates to the psychological need for competence and describes the skills the person brings to the task.

When the manager asks the direct report questions that put them in touch with their needs for choice, connection, and competence, the direct report is able to find their own source of motivation internally—and that is the most powerful motivation.

“You must remember to be mindful and not judgmental when having these conversations with your staff,” Fowler says. “By asking these questions, you are helping people to be more self-aware and to explore what their motivational outlook is all about.”

Fowler believes managers can create an environment where their people can have a better quality of life. “It’s not that we don’t want money—we are all motivated by money, power, and status—but there are other options that serve us and the people around us more effectively. We need to become more aware of why we are motivating people the way we are, and what is motivating us.” Fowler encourages you to ask yourself these three questions: (1) Why do I make the choices I make? (2) How do I feel a greater connection? and (3) How do I learn and grow every day?

About The Ken Blanchard Companies
The Ken Blanchard Companies is the global leader in management training. For nearly 40 years, Blanchard has been creating the best managers in the world, training over 150,000 people each year. From the award-winning First-time Manager program—based on the best-selling business book, The New One Minute Manager®—to SLII®, the most widely taught leadership model in the world, Blanchard is the provider of choice of Fortune 500 companies as well as small to medium businesses, government agencies, and educational and nonprofit organizations.

For more information about Susan Fowler, go to http://susanfowler.com/

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