Want to motivate others? Start by learning how to motivate yourself. That’s the message that best-selling author Susan Fowler has for the supervisors, managers, and senior leaders she works with. In Fowler’s experience, you have to understand your own reasons for performing at a high level before you can help others do the same. Without that understanding, most managers attempting to “motivate” others will resort to imposed or extrinsic techniques that may only make the matter worse.
This is the situation that many managers and organizations have found themselves in. A slow economy has left everyone with a motivation hangover now that the punchbowl of more money, more rewards, and more things has been removed. The economics of the current environment have limited those resources. So people are now saying, “What do we do?”
It’s a question that Fowler has been preparing to answer since she first began studying motivation in the early ’90s. Surprisingly, while this research has been around for decades, it is only now beginning to seep into business thinking.
As she explains, “I remember watching education expert Alfie Kohn on Oprah Winfrey back in the 1990s. He was talking about how schools and parents resorted to rewards to motivate kids. Ironically, and tragically, these practices ultimately have the opposite effect of diminishing their basic intrinsic motivation to learn.”
Fowler maintains that the reason for our dependence on external rewards to motivate people, especially in the workplace, is not just because they were easy and the “fast food” of motivation, but because we didn’t have alternatives—we didn’t know what truly motivates people. This is why Fowler began studying the work of Edward Deci and Richard Ryan, two researchers at the University of Rochester who pioneered Self-Determination Theory. Their findings created a firestorm of research challenging traditional notions of what truly motivates people.
“The latest science of motivation gives us an entire spectrum of options beyond the carrot and stick. People want or need money and rewards, but when they believe that is what motivates them, they are missing out on much more effective and satisfying motivational experiences.”