Motivating Employees Can Simply Be a Choice of Promotion or Prevention

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Feb 17, 2014

First of two parts

In which kinds of situations are you most effective? What factors strengthen — or undermine — your motivation?

People answer these questions very differently, and that’s the challenge at the heart of good leadership — whether you’re managing your own performance or someone else’s.

One-size-fits-all principles don’t work. The strategies that help you excel may not help your colleagues or your direct reports; what works for your boss or your mentor doesn’t always work for you.

Promotion-focused and a path to rewards

Motivational focus affects how we approach life’s challenges and demands. But leaders keen to be more effective in their jobs and to help others reach their full potential may find navigating the personality minefield a challenge.

In the book Focus: Use Different Ways of Seeing the World to Power Success and Influence, the authors discovered a way of identifying people on the basis of a personality attribute that also predicts performance.

Promotion-focused employees see their goals as creating a path to gain or advancement and concentrate on the rewards that will accrue when they achieve them. They are eager and they play to win.

You’ll recognize promotion-focused people as those who are comfortable taking chances, who like to work quickly, who dream big, and think creatively.

Unfortunately, all that chance taking, speedy working, and positive thinking makes these individuals more prone to error, less likely to think things through and usually unprepared with a Plan B if things go wrong. That’s a price they are willing to pay, because for them, the worst thing is a chance not taken, a reward unearned, a failure to advance.

The promotion-focused are engaged by inspirational role models, the prevention-focused by cautionary tales.

Playing safe and the prevention-focused

Prevention-focused employees, in contrast, see their goals as responsibilities, and they concentrate on staying safe. They worry about what might go wrong if they don’t work hard enough or aren’t careful enough.

They are vigilant and play to not lose, to hang on to what they have, to maintain the status quo. They are often more risk-averse, but their work is also more thorough, accurate, and carefully considered.

To succeed, they work slowly and meticulously. They aren’t usually the most creative thinkers, but they may have excellent analytical and problem-solving skills. While the promotion-minded generate lots of ideas, good and bad, it often takes someone prevention-minded to tell the difference between the two.

Simply identifying your own type should help you embrace your strengths as well as recognize and compensate for your weaknesses.

Both are crucial for organizational success

Although everyone is concerned at various times with both promotion and prevention, most of us have a dominant motivational focus. It affects what we pay attention to, what we value, and how we feel when we succeed or fail. And it’s why the decisions and preferences of our differently focused colleagues can seem so odd at times.

Both types of employees are crucial for organizational success. Businesses need to excel at innovation and maintaining what works, at speed and accuracy. The key is to understand and embrace our personality types and those of our colleagues, and to bring out the best in each.

Tomorrow, we’ll explore how to create motivational fit; choose role models; frame goals; provide incentives, and discuss how to seek or give feedback for both motivationally-focused groups.

This was originally published on the OC Tanner blog.