That’s because people are always motivated, and your efforts to motivate them to be more productive or cooperative by offering incentives or rewards just becomes frustrating, demoralizing and stressful for them, contends Susan Fowler.
Fowler, author of “Why Motivating People Doesn’t Work….and What Does,” says that there is a “naïve assumption” that motivation is something a person has or does not have. That wrongheaded thinking is what pushes leaders into believing that they can somehow “make up” for the motivation they believe their team doesn’t have. But research has consistently shown that trying to use “bribes” to motivate people doesn’t work, she says.
Instead, she says that leaders should be considering not if employees are motivated, but why they are motivated.
“The real story of motivation is that people are learners who long to grow, enjoy their work, be productive, make positive contributions, and build lasting relationships,” she writes in the book. “This is not because of motivational forces outside themselves but because it is their human nature.”
Unfortunately, too many leaders don’t believe that and instead try to play Santa for 364 days a year, offering goodies to team members – such as a new title or cash reward – that only de-motivate workers. The quick fix of such rewards is like junk food – it’s easy and provides instant gratification but is unhealthy in the long run, Fowler says.
“People regard managers who drive for results as self-serving,” she says. “They consider support by these managers to be conditional: if you do as I say, then I will reward you in some way. All the ‘carrots’ actually become a stick, and just add pressure.”
Further, such “conditional support” undermines the need for “relatedness” that people are looking for at work, where they are spending more and more time, she says.
“The rewards become meaningless and people start to feel guilty and stressed about them,” she says.
Fowler says the research on motivation proves that in order to keep workers engaged, leaders must learn that motivation is a skill. Using what she calls the “Optimal Motivation” process, she helps leaders move away from external motivations and instead learn to listen and interact with team members to discover what will be meaningful and sustainable motivation for an individual.
Having “outlook conversations” between leaders and workers can help employees understand their own motivations, Fowler explains.
In the book, she shares the technique and real-life “outlook conversations.” For example, she relates a case with Sonny, who in a workshop (see more here)