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Mapping the great unknown: motivation

What motivates you? That’s not an easy question to answer, and it’s even harder if you’re trying to fathom what motivates others – as most project managers must do. But as James Sale explains, it is possible to understand, measure and then develop motivation in yourself and others …

‘We know nothing about motivation. All we can do is write books about it,’ said Peter Drucker, arguably the greatest management consultant of the twentieth century. And he’s right. Search the Internet for ‘motivational books’ and you will find over 75,000 relevant titles. Not bad for something we know nothing about! 

But Drucker was on to something, and so were all those other authors. Motivation is an invisible force that underpins people’s actions and in project management – and life in general – it is important to understand what motivates people. The problem is, you can’t see motivation in the way that you can see, say, behaviours. That’s why organisations and managers have traditionally preferred to use psychometrics to understand their teams, because these describe how people are going to behave (at least, that’s the hope).

So, what if we could develop a way to describe motivation and – better still – a metric to measure motivation in individuals? That would be of enormous value to all organisations, teams, managers, leaders and people everywhere in all cultures and all situations. (After all, who doesn’t need motivation?)

That’s exactly what I have developed,and described in my new book, Mapping Motivation. The book outlines the language of motivation and provides metrics that measure it from various perspectives.

From a personal development point of view, my approach has far-reaching implications.

It should come as no surprise that most people do not know what motivates them. Motivation is not only invisible to others; it is also often – except, rarely, for percipient individuals – hidden from ourselves! Knowing your personal motivators means that you can actually work on them in the same way that you might work on your physical health or fitness: diagnose where you are and then make a plan to increase what you have.

Feed your motivators

The analogy with fitness and health is apt because, like these factors, motivations vary and change over time (whereas personality, as identified by psychometric tests, is more static). We don’t work out once and then think we have done all that is necessary to stay fit; no, we need regularly to work out, and so it is with motivation. Motivators must be ‘fed’ if we are to stay motivated. But feeding individual motivators is the prerequisite, or foundation, of feeding team and organisational motivators too.

There are nine motivations of work and they align with the Maslow Hierarchy of Needs, with Edgar Schein’s Career Anchors model, and with the nine-point personality tool, The Enneagram. There is a lot more detail on this in my book, Mapping Motivation, but for now it is sufficient to say that these nine motivators are organised in three groups of three.

Figure 1 Mapping Motiviation

At the low risk, slow decision-making end are the three Relationship type motivators: wanting security, belonging and recognition. Midway we have the Achievement type motivators, which most organisations are pretty fixated on: wanting control, money and expertise. And at the top end of high risk and fast (‘gut’) decision-making we have the three Growth motivators which want innovation, independence and mission. There are no good or bad motivators; context is everything in terms of relevance and accomplishment. Motivational Maps provides an easy, simple and short (it only takes 12 minutes to complete) online diagnostic, called the Motivational Map, that provides a motivational profile which is a complete read-out of all nine motivators in rank order and intensity for an individual (and subsequently for teams and organisations too).

Knowing what motivators is not enough, however; we need to be able to act on this information. Indeed, we need – whether we are an individual or a manager of a team or a CEO of a corporation – to be able to stimulate motivation; in effect, to feed it. Motivational Maps calls the process of feeding the motivators ‘Reward Strategies’. In the simplest terms, if somebody wants expertise (one of the nine motivators) on any subject – let’s say badgers - and we give them a book, or a DVD, all about badgers, then we have fed their hunger (albeit not entirely, for as with all hungers they return) for that expertise; our strategy has been to reward them with the book. And so it is for all the nine motivators: there are hundreds of rewards that can stimulate a specific motivator. Equally, and hopefully obviously, if gaining expertise were someone’s lowest motivator, then the notion that giving that person a book on the topic, or a DVD, or sending them on a badger course, would be ridiculous because it would fail to motivate them; it simply wouldn’t be what they particularly want.

When leaders and managers reward employees according to their motivational profile they are, effectively, speaking ‘their’ language; they are giving them what they want at an emotional level; and the effect of this is to increase their motivation and – in the work context – drive them to do more of the things that make them productive. Put like this, this is not rocket science; and neither is it manipulation, for they are genuinely seeking to give staff what they want, and not just engineer them into doing what management want with rewards (if any) that are really a form of short-changing them. In short, the language of motivation enables us to communicate more effectively.

At another level (the team and the organisational level) the motivational profiles gain in power; for if one profile shows what one person is seeking, then this is multiplied ten or hundred or a thousand times as the profiles – the Motivational Maps – are scaled up. Indeed, at this level of profiling the motivational results start becoming value statements as much as motivational drivers. Imagine, if 1,000 people are profiled and the results are crunched and we find out that, say, ‘Security’ is by far and away the most dominant motivator of the nine for those 1,000 people, then we have a drive and essentially a value because of the sheer weight of aggregated numbers. But if we have that specific value revealed in the Map, is it actually one specified in the organisational literature and mission as being core to the organisation (or even the team)? If it were not, then we have the situation in which the organisation has defined values and goals explicit to its plans, but beneath the surface the motivational profile lacks the desire to fulfil those values and goals. To take the ‘Security’ example, imagine that the company goals, vision and values were all explicitly about ‘can-do pro-activity, high change, high risk, no pain–no gain’ kind of statements, as they might need to be in a highly commercial environment; and yet beneath the surface, what employees want is ‘security’ as their dominant motivator: that is almost guaranteed to scupper what senior management is trying to achieve. In essence, one aspect of mapping motivation is change management and the alignment of the people to the mission, vision and values of the respective teams and organisation.

That leads onto one final point for now, and that is engagement. There are varying definitions of what engagement actually is. A fine book by Cary Cooper and David Bowles, The High Engagement Work Culture, reckons that engagement is a combination of morale and behaviour. We could argue about the subtle differences between morale and motivation, but my point is that something like 50–70 per cent of the whole engagement mix is made up of motivation, the energy that drives engagement. If this is so, Mapping a team or a whole organisation is going to show up what the real levels of engagement are far more accurately than any staff survey. Why? Because surveys are completed by the mind, by logic and by vested interests – they can misinform as easily as they inform; they can send powerful messages to management which are political in nature rather than representative of what is really going on or how people are really feeling. Mapping Motivation does not allow for that possibility, and skewing the result is far more difficult to do than simply answering a usually simplistic questionnaire.

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