What Is Motivation?

Most of us think about motivation in terms of the actions we take or words we speak that inspire the performance of others.  The objective of these words or actions is to get people to work harder and smarter.  Secondarily, we might think about motivation in terms of why other people do what they do and what they want to get out of their jobs.  This is often in the context of how to incentivize or reward them.  In this context, we often make two classic mistakes: 1) we project what we want onto others, and 2) we assume certain generalizations about what others want –money, power, personal recognition –that are either misleading or simply not specific enough to be helpful.

But there is another profound truth about motivation that we usually do not think about: the fact that motivation is unique and specific to each individual.   As a CEO, leader, or boss, discovering the unique motivational drives of your key employees or managers can have tremendous implications on your approach to management, compensation and even the culture of the company you are building.

For example, some people are highly motivated by the opportunity to function independently. Others prefer must much closer hands-on interaction with their fellow workers. Some people are powerfully motivated by the opportunity to reach a specific goal or financial metric. Others are far more motivated by the opportunity to overcome a significant challenge or obstacle, regardless of the financial implications.

We recently worked with a founder and CEO whose primary motivation we assessed and described as “complete the task, deliver on the promise, see it through”.  What is fascinating about him is that he left his job running a larger, profitable construction company to launch a non-profit that grew into a huge philanthropic organization meeting needs in 25 countries.

That is what makes motivation so interesting and intriguing. It’s literally different for every person. Think about it: how many times have you heard comments such as “You know what sales people are like.” or “All entrepreneurs are (fill in the blank).”  These stereotypes often provide misleading generalizations that are not relevant or true for the specific person we are referencing.  This idiosyncratic view of motivation has profound implications for how you handle your key employees.  Understanding them at this level can be a powerful management and leadership asset.

And at a broader level, ask yourself how much additional horsepower and creativity your organization you could unleash from your key employees if you knew exactly what really motivated them?

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SIMA® International is a worldwide group of consultants who use the proprietary assessment technology, SIMA®, to help our clients make the best possible “people decisions.”

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