Increasing Motivation: It’s Determining Just What Is the Right Approach

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Feb 18, 2014

Second of two parts

We all strive for a harmonious workplace that offers us the opportunity to bring out the best in ourselves and others and to do meaningful work we believe is important.

However, many of us find something much different — strained interactions with leaders and colleagues that sap our motivation rather than helping us to excel.

Talented leaders know the strategies that help them thrive may not help their colleagues or direct reports, and may even prove counterproductive for others. In part one of this article Motivating Employees Can Simply Be a Choice of Promotion or Prevention, we learned about two powerful — but very different — personality attributes that define employees’ preferred working style and performance.

Once we understand whether colleagues are promotion-focused or prevention-focused, we can speak and work with them in very specific ways that will increase their motivation.

Properly addressing employees’ motivational fit enhances and sustains both the eagerness of the promotion-minded and the vigilance of the prevention-minded, making work seem more valuable and boosting both performance and enjoyment.

Here are four examples to consider:

1. Choosing role models

The promotion-focused are more engaged when they hear about an inspirational role model, such as a particularly high-performing salesperson or a uniquely effective team leader.

The prevention-focused, in contrast, are impressed by a strong cautionary tale about someone whose path they shouldn’t follow, because thinking about avoiding mistakes feels right to them.

As an individual, you naturally pay attention to the kind of story that resonates most with you, but as a colleague or leader, you should think about whether the stories you share with others are motivational for them.

2. Framing goals

Even minor tweaks in the language you use to describe a goal can make a difference.

For example, coaches in a highly regarded semi-professional soccer league were told to prep their players for high-pressure penalty kicks with one of two statements: “You are going to shoot five penalties. Your goal is to score at least three times.” Or,“You are going to shoot five penalties. Your obligation is to not miss more than twice.” Players did significantly better when the instructions were framed to match their dominant motivational focus.

3. Seeking or giving feedback

Once goals are set in a way that creates motivational fit, you must sustain the fit by giving the right kind of feedback.

Promotion-focused people tend to increase their efforts when a leader offers them praise for excellent work, whereas prevention-focused people are more responsive to criticism and the looming possibility of failure.

You should always give honest feedback, but you can adjust your emphasis to maximize motivation. Don’t be overly effusive when praising the prevention-focused, and don’t gloss over mistakes they’ve made or areas that need improvement.

Meanwhile, don’t be overly critical when delivering bad news to the promotion-focused — they need reassurance that you have confidence in their ability and recognize their good work.

4. Providing incentives

Tangible rewards are another way to sustain motivational fit. Because incentives also vary according to personality type, you need to make sure your employees’ incentives create fit.

The promotion-focused on your team will respond better to “If you finish this project by Friday, treat yourself to a long lunch.” Whereas, “If you don’t finish this project by Friday, you will have to spend Monday reorganizing the supply room” will hit the right motivational cue for the prevention-focused.

This was originally published on the OC Tanner blog.