Why saying you are motivating someone else is wrong

Photo by mcbarnicle


Paul Hebert from Incentive Intelligence wrote a wonderful post yesterday. Using his “writer’s block” he explained that sometimes, it is not a matter of incentives or motivation. Employees just don’t have the tools to do the job. He says that you could have paid him a big bonus for writing a post, but at the best case, that would only lead him to create a bad post and at the worst case to plagiarizing somebody else’s post.

Here is an excerpt:

Too often in business we look at poor results and assume it’s an issue of motivation. It sometimes is, but more often than not it is another issue. But it’s easier to assume it’s someone else’s fault and go from there … Most of our business leaders assume we’re all waiting to be motivated when in fact we’re waiting for them to do their job.  Yeah – I said it – Managers – do your job. Find out WHY stuff isn’t getting done. Do some research. Talk to someone. Come out of the mahogany office and bump against us unwashed masses and see if it really is a motivation problem. I’m guessing it is a tools problem. A training problem. A communication problem. It may not be a motivation problem.

I agree. Let’s take a step further. And this is in the line of what I wrote about a few days ago (and I think Hebert wrote something similar in the past). I think the conversation about motivating someone else or creating motivation in our employees is wrong. It is a use of language that implies a wrong relationship. It assumes dominance. It assumes control. But it is an illusion. I don’t think you can motivate someone else. People don’t have a button you can push in order to move them. Motivation is an internal state. It is someone’s understandings, desires, inner cravings and thoughts. And if someone doesn’t want “to be motivated” we can’t make him.

We might help someone understand himself better. We might support his internal process of acquiring self-confidence. We might create an environment where he feels motivated. We might help with providing the right tools or taking hurdles out-of-the-way.

But in the end – the motivation is his or her inner choice. The sooner we realize that and stop trying to push motivation down people’s throats and start pulling them with the right understanding, support, tools and processes, the sooner we will see the external results of their inner process.



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