Four Tools To Employ When Motivation Fails
Article Published by: hr.com
Posted on 12-08-2018, by: John Hittler Evoking Genius
To achieve real change, try replacing motivation with a more effective tool
The following is adapted from The Motivation Trap: Leadership Strategies to Achieve Sustained Success
It’s amazing how often the leaders of organizations and teams classify as one of their top priorities “to motivate my team” or “to come up with new ways to motivate.” I’ve seen this with leaders of Fortune 500 companies as well as start-ups.
The problem with this approach is that motivation is no more than a spark to get people moving. To succeed, we need the right tools. Which tools? Let’s look at a few options.
Courage might seem a strange virtue to employ in a business context. We mostly think of courage as the kind of bravery shown by David when he took on Goliath. My guess is that this type of courage is not often needed on your team. Most often, your team members do not have to take on giants in a battle of life and death.
How, then, is courage required to succeed in business? What if your team were simply willing to make a plan of action, willing to try out a different direction or take the first step, or willing to partner with another new teammate or outside contributor? Results would follow, almost certainly, in the direction of forward progress. This is a type of courage.
Truth is, willingness doesn’t guarantee successful results, but unwillingness almost surely dictates zero results. A willingness to try, to work hard (or harder), a willingness to play together on the same team, or to set an ambitious goal—all of these actions produce much higher results than motivation ever can or will. The end result shows up in the progress that your team starts to make, the fun or challenge that they create, and the confidence that grows from making incremental or exponential progress.
With children doing homework, the same principle applies. Do your children exercise any willingness to struggle through challenging math problems or tough spelling words? Are you willing to allow them to figure out the work on their own? The sooner you require a sense of courage—in the simple form of willingness—your children doing homework and your children at the senior VP level will move away from short-term stimuli and move toward more sustainable tools to get things done.
Another tool that can sustain productivity longer than motivation is inspiration. When humans are inspired, we need not have all the answers, resources, funds, or teammates in order to succeed. Consider the inspiration shown by a teammate raising a child with a disease like juvenile arthritis or juvenile diabetes. Parenting stands as a challenging enough job without the added stress of mediations, doctor appointments, and the inevitable interruptions in daily life brought on by a sick child.
When that same teammate organizes a half-marathon group to raise funds for research, your initial decision to participate could be motivated by a willingness to help, but eventually your success rests more upon the inspiration found in your teammates, especially the parent of the afflicted child, the child in need, and perhaps by your own healthy children. Whatever inspires you (and it can be multiple factors) drives you forward, especially when inevitable challenges arise.
When you are clear about your inspiration, you dramatically increase the chances of a (more) successful outcome. When my son was in elementary school, another student had an incurable form of cancer. Kathy was a bubbly, energetic girl, always with a big smile and a bright outlook. As her disease progressed, she underwent chemotherapy and radiation treatments, and every bit of her long hair fell out.
Many in Kathy’s class, spurred on by an idea from one of the students, shaved their heads, boys and girls, in an act of solidarity, support, and appreciation for Kathy’s courage. One of the parents had caps made that said “Kathy’s Kids,” and the class wore them proudly, whether they participated in the haircuts or not. When Kathy returned to school, she was buoyed by the great show of support, and the family really appreciated the inspirational act.
Grade schoolers intuitively knew it. You and I know it too: “Nothing will work unless you do.” Kathy’s classmates could not cure her, but they could encourage and walk alongside her. In turn, those same classmates received a tremendous gift of inspiration—the inspiration that led to courage to persevere, even in the face of mortality. If grade schoolers can do this, who are you and I that we cannot?
Putting Habits in Place
Motivation is a one-shot deal. Like a firework, it creates a sudden flash before disappearing. That’s fine if all you need is to spur yourself—or someone else—into action. It’s not enough to convince people to show up time and again for something that requires effort.
Imagine that you decide to fully reclaim the shape of your body, increase your daily energy, sleep better, and increase your vitality and well-being. Your motivation may come from looking in the mirror and deciding it’s time for a change, but motivation can only take you so far. Habits can fill the gap.
Social scientists suggest that as much as 40 percent of what we do every day is habitual—that is, we do not really think about it. We are less than fully conscious while achieving all kinds of things. Take your morning routine. Do you always do the same thing, something like this: wake up to an alarm at the same time each day, hit the snooze button once (or sometimes twice), eventually get out of bed, use the toilet, and then head straight to the kitchen to start the coffee?
This all occurs in the first two minutes after you have gotten up, and the variance in the (habitual) routine rarely changes. You don’t really think about what you are doing; you’re effectively on autopilot. When you leave the house, do you always lock the door with the same hand? When you get into your car, do you do so the same way? I do too. We’re habitual.
If you want to transform the shape and vitality of your body—or achieve anything else that’s important to you—why not put the power of habitual behavior to work to create what you want? Habits work more effectively than motivation for a couple of reasons. First and foremost, you create habits by design, and in most cases, you do not change them much. To the extent that you choose to design and implement new habits, you shift your outcomes. You develop repetition until not doing the activity would feel much weirder than actually doing it. Ask people who work out when they have to miss a week of training. They just do not feel quite right, as they are in the habit of moving four or five days each week.
Second, habits work because we become not fully conscious of the actions after a while to the extent that the actions move us in a direction we would like (for example, more strength, flexibility, energy, and muscle tone); then, consciously choosing and implementing those actions supports our chosen outcomes. Social scientists now believe that it takes between 67 and 200 days to fully enact a habit—much longer than commonly believed.
Consider these two simple shifts in habits over the coming 66 days:
“I replace soda and alcoholic beverages with water.”
“I wake up at 6 a.m. to work out for sixty minutes before going to work.”
If you exercised just these two habits, regardless of whether you felt motivated, your body would change over a relatively short period of time. At that point, you would be more likely to adopt either habit permanently to support your ongoing health and vitality.
Relying on Systems and Processes
Imagine that you need to ensure that the shared spaces in your office are clean. Do you walk around every day geeing up your team members and offering them a reward for washing their mugs and emptying their bins? Or do you create agreed-upon systems detailing who is responsible for these tasks? The first approach sounds like a lot of effort, right? The second should require almost no energy on your part.
Of course, there are certain questions that go into creating effective systems and processes. For example, is there a rotating schedule for who does the dishes? Are there agreed-upon standards for an acceptable level of “clean” among the team or family members? Is the division of labor relatively equal and fair? When agreed-upon systems and processes exist, motivation is simply not needed or recommended. The systems and process carry the energy or action forward.
In the end, if the break room is clean at the end of each workday, do you really focus much on the level of motivation implemented by the person whose day it was to clean? Right. Neither do I. A clean break room trumps how someone might feel about their process for motivation to get that job done. One team member can groan about the “slobs” who wrecked the kitchen, and another team member can clean the same kitchen with his headphones on. Either way, as long as each team member follows the accepted system, the kitchen becomes much more functional for all to enjoy.
Systems and processes are simply not dependent on how motivated or “in the flow” you are, and they do keep many functions working really smoothly—at least much more smoothly than does motivation.
Tools Keep Working When Motivation Dies
Motivation can start us on a new path. When we’re motivated, we’re ready to do things differently. Unless it’s backed up with other tools, however, it won’t take us very far alone. We can’t rely on motivation to surmount the obstacles that life inevitably throws at us.
To achieve real change, therefore, try replacing motivation with a more effective tool. Courage, inspiration, habits, and systems and processes can all step in where motivation fails, providing ways to catalyze action and move people forward.
About Scott Livengood
Scott Livengood is the owner and CEO of Dewey’s Bakery, Inc., a commercial wholesale bakery with a respected national brand of ultra premium cookies and crackers.
Previously, Scott worked at Krispy Kreme Doughnuts for 27 years, starting as a trainee in 1977. He was appointed President of the company in 1992, then CEO and Chairman of the Board.
Scott has served on numerous boards including the Carter Center, the Calloway School of Business and the Babcock School of Management, Habitat for Humanity of Forsyth County, and the Winston-Salem Chamber of Commerce.
He started a new business, StoryWork International, in 2016 with Richard Stone. The signature achievement to date is LivingStories, a story-based program for improved patient experiences and outcomes in partnership with Novant Health.