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10 suggestions designed to boost motivation

It might seem obvious to say that motivation influences the efficiency of our day to day performance. What is harder to explain is why companies allocate limited resources to improving a factor that is obviously so important to their results.

An entrepreneur invited his employees to a fraternity meal. When it was time for dessert, he rose to deliver a speech.  During his speech he told a joke that caused great laughter among all participants but one. Later the entrepreneur asked, surprised at his seriousness: – Didn’t you find my joke funny? – I found it just as funny as all my colleagues, but I’m retiring tomorrow.

It’s evident to say that the motivation a person experiences, within the organization where they work, has great influence on the effectiveness and the efficiency of their daily performance. What is no longer easy to explain is why companies dedicate limited resources and simple (ineffective) strategies to improve an issue that seems evidently important to the results they obtain.

The focus set on motivation and the lack of actions in consequence, is probably the greatest paradox of all times, this contradiction seems largely due to the unclear or even lack of definitions of the term itself. The concept of motivation is as overused as it lacks proper significance, for example, when it is used represented by a circle to explain almost any behavior or the absence of it:

When someone is not working energetically it’s due to a “lack of motivation”, and we know this person is not feeling motivated because we observe he/she puts no energy in his work.

This seems more as a rhetorical explanation than a scientifically reasonable one. To try and shed some light on a more practical and measurable concept of motivation, we would like to share specific ideas that can be introduced in the organization from a professional coaching perspective, so every member can learn and develop them.

1. Motivation can be a cause but also a consequence

Sometimes, we need to trust motivation will come sooner or later. The people that work in the company, including those with managerial responsibilities, inevitably go through activity and mood peaks and spurs. We can also promote and maintain motivation by understanding it is a cyclical factor. In moments of “lower motivation” it can be useful to avoid putting pressure on employees, but it is a good time to promote planning and scheduling future tasks.  In other words, when the time is not right for creative work, it can be the right time to analyze and set new goals and polish methodologies.

Taking the time to plan when feeling discouraged is possibly the best way to motivate for the near future.

2. You can move to action without motivation

As a manager it is important to accept that neither you nor your employees will be highly motivated at all times. It is important to generate a work and collaboration context that depends on plans rather than on the prevailing mood. In other words, however the team is feeling the important issue is to do what must be done, what has already been planned.

When we demand motivation to get things done we are putting a lot of pressure on ourselves. When we are actively working, with or without the expected will, passion and interest may emerge from the activity itself. Inactivity only generates more inactivity. And it is contagious.

3. Motivation is not about being in the mood but having motives

Motivation does not depend on what we think or what we feel. We tend to overestimate the influence that our emotions and our thoughts have over our motivation and our actions. A great deal of people are not happy going to work every morning and withstand negative thoughts and emotions in this regard, but nevertheless they go to work and even work in a good mood On the other hand,  some people stay back home and avoid going to work, and then turn out  feeling discouraged for not attending their jobs.

Many people are discouraged at first when doing something,  but have good reasons for doing so,  and end up doing it for most of their lives. This is because mood and motivation are two very different things

If you think or feel you are not enthusiastic about work, may be if you start working you will soon feel like doing so.

The employer should not focus directly on employees emotions, to avoid emotional manipulation or instrumentalization. He should only try to give his employees reasons to come to work and to want to do so. 

4. Motivation depends on the context

People do not feel “motivated at all times”, our motivation is contextual, temporal and specific, it is related to an activity in a certain time and place.  The way in which we apply our skills  varies according to the context and the situation in stake. Talent comes to light or not depending on the motivation in each different context.

A person with great commercial skills can seem incompetent when dealing with administrative tasks and vice versa.  Other people can be very efficient in their individual performance but can be inefficient when it comes to team work.

Most people know what they have to do, the problem is that they do not do so, or at least not in every situation.

Telework can be a great solution to increase performance and satisfaction for workers within certain profiles and tasks; on the other hand others need a more conventional work scenario. Context can educate habits and routine habits provide power to the context, mainly professional contexts.

5. Motivation is based on setting goals

A person that does not set professional goals and aims, by definition, is a person that lacks motivation, and is often discouraged. Usually these kind of persons enjoy and feel further involved, as for example in their jobs, if they are asked to set their own daily and/or weekly goals.

When there’s a will there’s a way: more and better planning results in more and better motivation.

Your motivation will improve if you set achievable and concrete goals, and will also spring up if you enjoy independence and confidence.

6. Motivation is not what you would do, it is what you actually do

In social contexts such as work, there are higher chances that what we say we intend to do is not aligned with our real motivation.  As in the tale of the host and the pianist.

Don’t seek for motivation based on conditional grounds, ” If I had a better boss I am sure….; don’t spend time in what you would do if… You will easily find your interests inquiring on what you currently do on a daily basis. Do you want to be more motivated? Then maybe you’ll be interested in this idea:

Discover what you like to do based on what you are already doing and dedicate more time to it.

Don’t waste your professional life in the hope motivation will someday grow out of nowhere, organize your life based on what you are passionate about, even if its slowly,  work to make it grow. Don’t assume your current roles at work are necessarily the final ones. Even the company might not be the final one.

7. Motivation must never become an obsession

Why is it people are so concerned about motivation? Motivation is something you either have or don’t. If you are not motivated, why worry? If you are not motivated it must be because you are nor concerned enough so as to do something about it. So, if you are not motivated to act, why worry? It’s preferable to accept who you are and move on, than to feel troubled about it.

Too many people are constantly thinking they need to turn their lives around, especially concerning work-related issues, fantasizing about dramatic changes. This attitude generally prevents them from enjoying the benefits of their current jobs and relationships, and doesn’t let them focus on small everyday passions and interests that could gradually result in real changes. We could even say that when you wish for uncertain things you may lose those that are certain.

If you are not happy with your professional life but are not willing to do anything to change matters, you probably aren’t as unhappy as you thought.

Stop worrying about what you should be doing, especially when you don’t have the time or the will to do them, and focus on what you are already doing.

8. Motivation comes form “within” but arises from “outside”

Is  motivation intrinsic or extrinsic? Motivation works like those little boats we see inside bottles,  they look natural but you don’t really know how they actually got there, the procedure, experience, time and effort required to get them there. Managers timeworn debate on internal or intrinsic motivation and external or extrinsic motivation seems pointless.

Employers say they prefer motivated workers that already come from home wearing a smile. But they surely acquired that work motivation that seems to flow so naturally, from some previous professional or personal experience within another company or workplace.

But you can’t expect anyone to unleash their “internal motivation” if they don’t have it. They never acquired it. Organizations and educational centers seek to create conditions in which they may generate motivation, hoping this trait can be internalized as an idiosyncratic characteristic.

We can all change our motivation, and find the way to gradually put whichever little boat we wish inside the bottle. How? It is a simple task that involves time, planning and effort. As all good things. If you want to feel motivated to do things or achieve the goals you have set, organize your life and your habits in order to increase possibilities, especially in the context of work.

9. Motivation is idiosyncratic: A criticism of the “theories of motivation in human resources”

Is there really enough scientific knowledge to endorse all the bragging on how motivation really works?

Let’s be consistent with humanistic principles and accept that motivation is idiosyncratic and unique, it depend mostly on each individuals previous experiences that are also the ones that shaped his/her interests and motivators, his/her needs and current situation.

Those who wish to find explanatory models of motivation and quote this or that theory, are seeking for a cheap way to encourage their human resources department and prove the worthiness of a commercial and scalable concept of production applied equally to all.

A motivation for all people does not exist, motivation is for each particular person at a determined time and place.

The true purpose of a human resources professional is to understand the motivational bias of each of its interim clients in the field that may concern the organization.

The “personnel department” only makes sense if they focus on motivation as a unique trait regarding each person.

10. Motivation as a challenge

One of the usual activities in coaching processes is encouraging the client to set or find challenging goals, that are true  achievable motivators. This is a conversation that took place in a mill at the end of the day, shortly before the night shift arrived:

How is it possible that a man of your skills can’t get this mill to achieve its real yield? asked Schwab, the factory’s manager.    – I don’t know, I have asked the workers to work harder, I have set the example, I have threatened to fire them, but nothing works.   – Schwab asked for a piece of chalk Turning to the nearest worker he asked: – How many heats did your shift make today?

Without another word,  Schwab chalked a big number 6 on the floor and walked away. As the night shift arrived they saw the 6 and asked what it meant, and they were explained. When the day shift arrived on the following morning they saw the number 6 had been replaced by a huge number 7. Soon this mill, which had been lagging way behind in production results, began to yield more than any other mill in the plant ( How to win friends and influence people, Dale Carnegie, p228.)

The way to get things done is to stimulate competition,  the desire to outdo oneself.

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