Posted by Terry Williams - The Brain-Based Boss
In the workshops I lead, and with the people I’ve had reporting to me who also had people reporting to them, one of the most common questions I’ve heard is, “How do I motivate someone”? I don’t think that’s the best or first question to ask.
I’ve been a trainer and facilitator for over twenty five years. In the middle of that, I was also a senior manager in a complex and changing organisation for a dozen years. Both roles involved helping people move towards behaviour change. The thing about behaviour change is that you can’t do it for them, nor can you always be around when the going gets tough, when most people easily revert. For those people doing the actual moving towards behaviour change, they need to:
- want to do it,
- think they need to do it,
- believe they can do it, and
- think they should do it now.
The combination of all those conditions is what we label ‘motivated’. They need to be self-motivated. Armies might have generals, stage plays might have directors, and sports teams might have coaches screaming on the sidelines but the soldiers, athletes and actors doing the doing are the ones who need to be motivated. The generals, directors and coaches just need to make sure they recruit well, train for technical skills and create a culture and environment where people’s natural motivations can come through. It’s easy to say in a single sentence but it’s not easy to do, especially when many leaders don’t even realise that’s what they’re supposed to be doing. There’s way too much of that image of the sports coach screaming from the sidelines as the poster child for motivation. There are definite times and places for that approach but it’s far less necessary than many think.
It might sound controversial for someone authoring books on how to motivate, influence, persuade and engage people but I don’t think any one person can motivate any other one person meaningfully in the long run. What they certainly can do is create an environment and provide some tools where individuals and teams have:
- clarity on what they’re trying to achieve,
- clarity on what action steps are required, and
- surety that the effort required is worth it, even if the results are not guaranteed.
That would apply in war, sports and drama, as well as any workplace you’d care to name.
One of my favourite leadership quotes is, “The true test of your leadership is what happens when you’re not around”. (I tried to find out who originated it to give them credit. Even with Google, I could not find it. Maybe it was me? It sounds like something I would say). Think about the implications of that quote.
I’ve worked for people in the past who were charismatic, passionate and energetic – the sorts of people many would believe to be what motivators look and sound like. Just being around them, you couldn’t help but be turned on to the work by their infectious enthusiasm. However, it quickly became evident that it was all quite fleeting and superficial. Fireworks are exciting but you wouldn’t want to work for them.
I’ve read widely the works of motivational authors and attended the presentations of many motivational speakers. It might be argued that perhaps they should call themselves speakers and the audiences can decide whether or not they’re motivational? Maybe they’re entertaining, and maybe they’ve got great content, but does that move anyone in the audience to lasting and meaningful behaviour change? The truly great ones who genuinely motivate don’t just speak or write, they provide structures, systems, tools and the design for environments that will allow and enable us to motivate ourselves. Because, ultimately, we’re on our own for the most part once we close that book or walk out of that auditorium.
I mainly work with leaders or potential leaders in the workplace or those that support them. That said, I see the principles I write and talk about being applied successfully outside work. You might be a sports coach or captain. You might be in the arts or sciences. You might be a sales person, business owner or project manager. You might be a mum or dad. Chances are, you have more than one of these life leadership roles where you need to move people towards behaviour change. Whether it’s to practice the clarinet late into the night before the national championships or whether it’s to get a marginal customer service rep to answer more calls, you’d like some tools to motivate people that don’t rely on you doing all the heavy lifting.
My drive to collect ideas, techniques and tools to help motivate and engage people stepped up a gear in earnest in 2013. I had just finished presenting to a group of dairy farmers. One came up to me afterwards with a question. They had a worker nicknamed ‘Sleepy’ (red flag right there) and, as a well-meaning employer, they felt Sleepy had heaps of unfulfilled potential but was just doing the job and no more, and was treading water. I didn’t have an answer on the spot and was frustrated with myself as a result. So, me being me, I threw myself way too obsessively into research which led to me having a couple of books published on the subject.
Motivation is a toolkit approach in my opinion. A foundation tool for me is one that influences focus and attention. It’s the Reticular Activating System (RAS). What is this RAS?
Have you ever encountered a situation where someone asks you a question like, “Hey Terry, have you noticed the new Toyota Prius? It’s that fluorescent lime-green colour”. And you hadn’t noticed it but, the moment it’s drawn to your attention, for the next two weeks you see nothing but lime-green cars everywhere you go. That’s the RAS in action. You knew what it was but you might not have known what it was called.
Picture the RAS as you’d picture a bouncer in a nightclub. The nightclub in this metaphor is your conscious mind and it has a limited capacity. The clubbers in the queue are the sensations from our five senses. Ideally, the bouncer would only let in VIPs and exclude the riff-raff. “You’re in. You’re in. You, not with those shoes”. But, as we’ve already demonstrated, riff-raff does get in, such as lime-green cars. And it gets in using the same technique that clubbers have used on nightclub bouncers for years – bribes. For a brain, that’s dopamine, a neurotransmitter linked to reward and pleasure. The problem for many of us is that random stuff gets in there like lime-green cars, the ranting de jour on our Twitter feed and shiny things. What we’d like in there are high-value thoughts that can help us and move us forward. How can we switch our own RAS onto deliberate and positive foci and how can we do that for the people from whom we’re trying to get buy-in? For now, let’s focus on how you need to represent your goal tangibly in the physical world so it can serve to activate your RAS.
This physical form needs to have three characteristics. The reason the lime-green car activates your RAS and sticks in your mind for ages afterwards is that it’s:
- distinctive, and
- physically exists in multiple locations.
Advertisers know this, which is why you often see an ad on a bus shelter at the same time you hear it on your car radio – behaviour change is moved by multiple aggregated hits. To leverage this mind-system to your own ends of self or team development and reaching whatever goals you have, you need a novel, distinctive and physical reminder in multiple prime eyelines. For your team, where are these eyelines? What are people looking at all day and as they arrive and leave? Is it their computer screen, clock on the wall, the fridge door in the kitchenette, the entry door to the office? Mass-produced motivational posters of geese flying in formation or rowers at dawn are all well and good but do they really motivate at all, or are they just good for covering the smudge marks on the wall? If you’d spent the twenty dollars you spent on that poster on a pizza, would that have been more motivational? The trouble with posters and pizzas is that they’re both short-term motivators, if they’re motivators at all. What would be more specifically motivational for your people on an ongoing basis?
Whatever personalized and customized focus visuals you create, their images and messages will wear off, so they need to be regularly updated. Short-burst campaigns are more effective than dusty old posters. Those things just become part of the wallpaper and certainly quickly fail the novelty and distinctiveness tests. A powerful one I saw in one sales workplace was a wall-sized graphic of an airliner that was coloured in as the team progressed towards their sales incentive of a trip for everyone to Fiji.
A second tool, useful for teams, that I see gaining momentum is the ‘personal one-page user-manual’. Rather than hope those around us figure out how to get the best from us, why not write our own one-page user manual and show it around? This helps people connect better and work together more effectively, removing a common demotivator. They’re written informally and bullet pointed on one page – no ‘Game of Thrones’ epics. It’s a great way for people in workplaces, sports, schools, and even families to better synch their personal ‘operating systems’ and lessen unproductive and demotivating conflict & stress. I’ve popped a template up at www.myusermanual.net.
Sleepy didn’t last long on that dairy farm. He’s now a very successful commission-based real estate agent. Perseverance is often cited as a major contributor to success but sometimes we all need to know when to quit.
More ideas at http://gettingbetterbuyin.com/