You really think that’s going to motivate me?

Posted by Justin Perun on Apr 3, 2019 11:48:00 AM


I once held the belief that my motivation, perseverance, and work ethic was independent of anything outside of me. Put me in any situation, any environment, and I’ll outwork the person next to me - a machine doesn’t stop producing due to a ‘lack of motivation’.

But this belief changed in a way I didn’t expect it to. In a previous role with a different company, I was firmly dedicated to producing, growing in my role, and making an impact for the organization. I never had an issue with engagement or motivation as the company culture fostered creativity, autonomy, and the ability for me to use my strengths in the best way I saw fit.

As the company evolved and started to change direction, this all changed. New leadership was brought in and as a result, so were new policies and a shift in culture. As the company drove toward ‘predictable revenue’, outdated methods of motivation and accountability were set from on high. The thought was: with enough rewards in place (and a healthy dose of potential negative financial consequences) our team would work harder and smarter than before, bringing the business to a new level of growth and enlightenment.

As the policies were implemented and time progressed, my stress levels rose and my frustration started to build. I found myself reflecting on the ‘me vs. them’ mentality I had toward the company. I no longer wanted to put in any additional effort which didn’t directly contribute to my role and responsibilities. I stopped caring about the success and overall health of the organization.

“If they’re going to enforce the types of policies that would hurt me,” I thought, “then why on earth would I want to give an ounce of extra effort?”

Team morale dwindled and it became harder and harder for all of us to come into work everyday. Soon, my teammates were submitting their letters of resignation and leaving in droves. Clearly, I wasn’t the only one who was feeling this way.

For a long time I’ve prided myself on my discipline and work ethic. When I saw these core values starting to diminish, it worried me and forced me to take a step back and consider what was going on. Apparently, I wasn’t immune to my environment...

Moving forward

In the next few instalments in my blog series I’m going to look at human behavior in the workplace and why it doesn’t operate in the way many leaders believe it does. Much of the information I’ll be sharing is from two books: Drive, by Daniel Pink, and Primal Leadership, by Daniel Goleman.

As a project manager, understanding what builds and erodes engagement is a critical component in being able to execute on your projects at the highest level. Many of the people you’re relying on and working with won’t report directly to you, so knowing how to get the best out of them will ensure your project is successful.

As the landscape of work changes over time, so should our leadership strategies. However, even in the information age of today, there’s still a significant gap in what science knows and business does. In Daniel Pink’s book, Drive, he outlines how, over time, our core motivators have shifted:

  • Motivation 1.0:  goes back to the creation of man - survive (that’s it).

  • Motivation 2.0:  seek reward, avoid punishment (at a broad level)

  • Motivation 3.0:  ‘intrinsic motivators’ will shape our behavior.

Our inclination and innate belief today is that Motivation 2.0 is the right leadership method. Reward a behavior or activity and you’ll get more of it, punish a particular behavior or activity and you’ll get less of it. This is all good and well if people were to respond rationally to it (which they won’t). In fact, when your primary leadership strategy is to leverage external rewards or punishments, you’ll likely get more of the behavior you don’t want to see and less of the behavior you do want to see.

In my next few posts we’ll find out why that is. I’ll break down how and why Motivation 3.0 entered the workplace, explore common detrimental and ineffective Motivation 2.0 leadership methods, and share the three tenants which have been proven to create an engaged employee.

For now, I’ll leave with you a short animation overview of Daniel Pink’s findings regarding the use of internal and external motivators and the effect it has on performance: 


I hope you enjoyed the read and I look forward to hearing from you!

Topics: Project Management

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