Have you ever found yourself repeatedly procrastinating, not taking action on a task that needs to be done, or not having the boldness to act—even on a good idea? Or have you felt your energy drain away just thinking about an upcoming task, such as conducting performance reviews? Your motivational outlook is probably to blame, says best-selling business author Susan Fowler.
Fowler explains that individuals bring one of six motivational outlooks to any goal or task they face. And her research has identified that three of the outlooks perform better than others for generating positive, long-lasting, and consistent energy for getting a job done.
The challenge for leaders is to help employees identify which of the six motivational outlooks is currently in play, help them shift to one of the more positive outlooks, and then reflect on the impact. Fowler’s research shows that this three-step process leads to greater performance, productivity, and well-being.
Skill One: Identifying Current Motivational Outlooks
In her book Why Motivating People Doesn’t Work... And What Does, Fowler shares that of the six motivational outlooks a person can bring to a goal or task, three are suboptimal because of their limited and predictable negative impact on performance:
- Disinterested. This is where an individual feels overwhelmed, cannot find value in the task, or doesn’t have the energy to manage what’s required.
- External. This is where an individual is primarily motivated by the promise of a tangible reward or incentive, or the expectation of increased power, status, or respect.
- Imposed. This is where an individual is motivated by pressure to perform by either self-expectations or the expectations of others. Their actions are an attempt to avoid feelings of guilt, shame, or disappointment.
The next three outlooks are labeled as optimal because they lead to long-term performance and high-quality satisfaction.
- Aligned. This is where an individual derives a sense of meaning from the goal or task, is able to align the task with important personal values, and is making a conscious and deliberate choice to do the right thing.
- Integrated. This is where an individual is motivated because the goal or task fulfills a deeply felt sense of purpose, or is regarded as a self-defining activity.
- Inherent. This is where an individual perceives the goal or task as pure fun and enjoyment.
And while Fowler has seen people list all six motivational outlooks when they identify their motivation on key responsibility areas or key performance indicators, there is still a predominance of External and Imposed motivational outlooks among employees. This leads to the misguided notion that people aren’t motivated or don’t have enough motivation. That’s wrongheaded, explains Fowler. “The question isn’t if a person is motivated, the better question is why.”
Skill Two: Shifting Up to a More Optimal Motivational Outlook
In working with leaders, Fowler explains that motivational outlooks are, in the end, a matter of choice. It begins with the leader helping people identify where they are, choose where they prefer to be, and use proven strategies for shifting.
Fowler says, “People have a spectrum of motivation possibilities they may have never considered. A leader can open people up to alternatives: Why would someone choose an outlook that is self-defeating and negatively impacts long-term performance, not to mention their physical and mental health? When given an understanding of their options, people are more apt to use the skill of motivation to take the positive path.”
Breaking traditional habits can be a challenge. Shifting to a more positive motivational outlook requires thinking beyond gaining rewards or avoiding punishments. Instead, Fowler recommends that leaders focus on the MVP’s of motivation — Mindfulness, Values, and Purpose.
In her work with clients, Fowler encourages using “why” questions to get at some of the root causes or neglected psychological needs that can lead to people going through the motions, doing tasks only for the money or intangible rewards such as power, or feeling obligated to just meet minimum requirements. She says, “It’s fascinating to turn the tables and ask leaders why they accepted the mantle of leadership.”
On the surface, it seems simple enough. Fowler will ask the person to consider why they are not making progress with a particular work task. Then with each answer, Fowler probes with another “why” question. She explains: “Asking ‘why, why, why’ helps an individual peel through the layers of distractions. Asking ‘why’ provides a mindfulness method for getting connected to psychological needs that were being obscured by doing the task for suboptimal reasons.”
The second of the MVPs, Values, occurs when leaders take the time to help employees identify their core values at work and find a way for them to align the goal or task with one of those values. The strategy is to help people find something more enduring and meaningful than doing the task simply because they were told to do it, or because they’ll get a reward if they do.
The third of the MVPs is to connect with a noble Purpose. Few events in life are more powerful than making important decisions from a sense of purpose. One of the key roles of a leader is to help people find something worthwhile to serve. Fowler reminds leaders: “If you have not done this for yourself—connected your own goals to a noble purpose for the greater good—you will find it a challenge to help others rise above daily obligations.”
Skill Three: Reflecting
Reflecting is the third step in the process and includes leaders encouraging people to notice how they feel after their shifting experience. Fowler says, “Feelings are the pathway to understanding one’s well-being. And awareness of your well-being is at the heart of maintaining an optimal motivational outlook.”
Fowler explains that many leaders are out of touch with their own emotions, often ignoring their moods, especially at work. Ironically, she says, the more you overlook your emotions, the more these emotions tend to rule your behavior. If leaders are going to become more adept at helping people manage their personal motivation process, they need to be more adept at reflecting, acknowledging, recognizing, identifying, and accepting feelings—especially their own.
The three skills of optimal motivation can seem somewhat simple in nature—but the results are profound. New studies have shown that optimal motivational outlooks are significantly correlated to employee intentions to perform at a high level, apply discretionary effort as needed, remain with an organization, endorse an organization, and work effectively with others.
Leaders can begin to move the workforce to a higher quality of motivation and skill by encouraging people to examine their current motivational outlook on each of their key tasks and goals. Where outlooks are less than optimal, managers can learn how to create conditions that make it easier for people to shift and reflect, allowing people to tap into the motivation that is already present and waiting to be used. But first, leaders need to learn and apply the skill of motivation for themselves. Fowler asks, “Can you imagine a leader who has a suboptimal motivational outlook for conducting performance reviews trying to shift employees’ motivation to improve their engagement scores?”
As Fowler reminds leaders, “Picture people choosing to come to work because they experience a sense of positive well-being, the feeling that they are contributing to something greater than themselves, and the thrill of continued growth and learning. People can flourish as they succeed. This is the promise of optimal motivation. It’s a process that’s good for people and good for the organization.”
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Would you like to learn more about bringing out the best in others? Then join us for a free webinar!
3 Skills for Activating Optimal Motivation at Work
Wednesday, April 1, 2015
9:00 a.m. Pacific Time / 12:00 p.m. Eastern Time / 5:00 p.m. UK Time / 4:00 p.m. GMT
In this webinar, motivation expert Susan Fowler will share the three skills for creating a highly productive and actively engaged workplace. She will also examine the building blocks of motivation and what leaders intentionally or accidentally do that increases or decreases intentions to perform and work effectively with others. Drawing from the design of The Ken Blanchard Companies’ new Optimal Motivation training program, Fowler will explore what leaders can do to enhance and develop every individual’s natural inclination to grow and excel.
You’ll learn about three skills that help facilitate people’s optimal motivation:
- Identifying an individual’s current motivation by exploring the characteristics of six possible motivational outlooks.
- Shifting motivational outlooks through “why” questions, promoting mindfulness, aligning with values, and connecting with purpose.
- Reflecting and maintaining higher levels of motivation by examining well-being, considering key reasons for shifting or not shifting, and developing the skills to reframe any goal or task.
Don’t miss this opportunity to learn what leaders can do to create a work environment where people are self-motivated to perform at high levels, go above and beyond job descriptions, and work collaboratively toward common goals.