The True Motivation Equation

More times than project managers care to discuss, they find themselves needing to motivate people to meet their agreed upon objectives. Sometimes the motivate with a carrot, and other times with a stick, and still other times with negative pressure or guilt. The carrot method is unfortunate as workers should be intrinsically motivated to do a good job and should not need further incentives. the other methods can leave a PM feeling bad, frustrated, or stressed out that it had to come to that.

Here I’ll share what I like to call the “true motivation equation.” Not only is it kind of catchy sounding, it also puts in your mind the idea that there is a more effective way to motivate. Another nice benefit is that it keeps you feeling good and successful in your role.

2 Motivation Equations We Use That Don’t Work Consistently

motivation = attractiveness of the goal

In this equation, it is believed that if you increase an incentive or benefit (like money or recognition) then the goal becomes more attractive and people will naturally will want to do more to achieve that goal. It works occasionally, but only because of the true motivation equation I’ll show you later.

motivation = avoidance of discomfort

In this equation, it is believed people will work harder for a goal to avoid unpleasant feelings or shame. This also occasionally works, but causes personal resentment and demotivates future efforts. We may feel some relief for having people experience “earned” consequences, however that too is not lasting.

Here’s a True Motivation Equation That Works

motivation = attractiveness of the goal  X  likelihood of success

Here you can see that attractiveness of the goal plays a role, but that we must combine it with a perceived likelihood of success. In other words, people not only have to see there is enough benefit to reaching the goal, they also have to believe it’s achievable. Your job in motivating others is to make the perceived benefit attractive enough, while at the same time helping them recognize that their likelihood of success is high.

You may have been on the receiving end of some unsuccessful motivation attempts. The incentives may have been inflated so large that you never really believed you could achieve that reward, so naturally, you held back your maximum effort.

The real skill of using the true motivation equation lies in promoting the likelihood of success. To do this, you need to help others see the many resources that are available to them, remind them of earlier successes, and talk about recent progress already made. Having all of this information available to you is made much easier when you employ a solution-focused mindset, as written in this article.

A solution-focused mindset is always looking for success, progress, what worked in the past, and who was responsible for the success. With this winning mindset and the true motivation equation at work, you can motivate most anyone to a timely, positive outcome. Ahhh, one of your objectives in project management is met.

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