There Is A Science to Motivation

Motivation Post

Several months ago, I created and shared the above photo on my blog social media platforms. It was shared enough to be viewed by over 20,000 people (big numbers for my humble blog!) and received varying feedback. Since sharing that photo, one particular comment has resonated with me. A very well-intentioned gentleman stated: “Mumbo Jumbo! Don’t waste time on learning ‘motivational theories.’ Spend time learning who your people are.” This comment has stuck with me because I believe that’s exactly the point to my photo and the purpose in understanding researched motivational theories.

Like all things in leadership, there is an art and a science to subordinate motivation in an organizational setting. For this post, I define motivation as the psychological processes that arouse and direct voluntary goal-oriented behavior. Subordinate performance is a function of ability, motivation, and environment.

Motivation is highly individual and requires leaders to know their people. Certain motivational techniques may be unique to only one of your subordinates, where a different motivational focus and style applies better to another. By better understanding your people on an individual level, you can more effectively invest into them to both achieve their personal professional goals AND improve their contribution (performance) to organizational goals. This is why knowing the science of motivation is important.

Employing the right flavors of these motivation theories (or applying the art of leadership) can have incredible effects on both your subordinates as individuals, but also on your organization as a whole. These effects can be tangible and/or intangible. Such effects include:

  • During challenging organizational times, motivated professionals are more adaptable and creative; motivated individuals have buy-in that keeps them “on board” if plans go awry.
  • Motivated subordinates elevate organizational optimism and attitude.
  • Encourages group and organizational cohesion, which improves teamwork.
  • Efficiency and productivity naturally improve as a symptom.
  • Motivated individuals feel more valued; as a result, they have a higher commitment and buy-in to organizational goals.
  • It leads to overall improved organizational output.

Therefore, I encourage leaders to invest some personal self-development time to better understanding motivation theories. Through these, we quickly learn that motivation can be grown beyond simple monetary and tangible incentives. A quick explanation of the photo’s segregation of content and process theories:

  • Content theories of motivation focus on identifying internal factors such as one’s instincts, needs, satisfaction, and desired job characteristics that encourage employee motivation.
  • Process theories of motivation focus on explaining the process by which internal factors and cognitions influence motivation. These theories are more dynamic than content ones.

Simple Google searches of the motivation theories listed in the photo produce more than sufficient literature on any of the theories. I prefer not to provide individual links to each theory for fear of pigeonholing readers’ research. I highly encourage readers to contact me with questions, comments, or feedback (3x5leadership@gmail.com, Facebook, Twitter) and/or comment below to start a public dialog.

Finally, consider the following questions throughout your investigation of the theories to help in reflecting on this learning:

  • Do you notice any commonalities among the theories? What does that say for potentially generalized motivation techniques for your people?
  • What are the “best parts” of each of the theories that you feel can work best for your people and/or type of organization?
  • After piecing the best parts of the theories together, how are you going to materialize that for person X on your team? What does “motivating them” look like now?
  • Is there anything missing from the above theories, and if so, what is it?

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