Motivation, Power and Self Interest

Leeds Photo by Barnaby Alldrick

Leeds Photo by Barnaby Alldrick

Carmine Coyote has written a provocative post which explores the fundamental dishonesty of motivation.

But I think Carmine has given motivation a bum rap!

What has been called ‘motivation’ is really ‘manipulation’.  Manipulation to get people to do something that the manager wants them to do.

Now I don’t think any manager can ‘motivate’ anyone beyond the short term fix of the pep talk.  (I think that we should set trading standards onto speakers who claim to be ‘motivational’.  The good ones might educate about motivation – but in my experience the motivational, as opposed to the educational, impact of their presentations tails off within a few hours of their closing remarks.)

What managers can do is to help each employee to get really clear on their (the employees) self interest and how working towards organisational objectives serves it.  Once this is done motivation will follow as sure as night follows day.  Or the employee will leave to find a place where they can pursue their self interest more effectively.  And this really forces employers to look at the value proposition that offer to their employees.  Why should good, compassionate, competent people choose to spend their working hours with us?  If it is just for the money then “Houston, we have  problem!”

Self interest, rightly understood, properly negotiated with others and then pursued with vigour and power leads to remarkable results and one of its many by-products is ‘motivation’.  Others are inspiration, creativity, innovation, passion, energy, vigour, strength.  But the proper negotiation with others is critical.  Blending self interests, weaving them together,  ensuring that they reinforce rather than undermine each other, lies at the root of all high performing teams.  And this is the real craft of the progressive manager.

The trouble is most of us feel uncomfortable about pursuing self interest.  We are uncomfortable talking about it.  We don’t even like to give ourselves the time to think about it.  We have been socialised to suppress our self interest and look for opportunities to serve others.  And VERY few managers build the kind of relationships where self interest (of all parties) can be clarified and negotiated fully to the benefit of all.

Carmine’s point about the fundamental dishonesty of motivation, that it is about getting people to ‘do more work for less reward’ is, I believe, a misrepresentation.  Employees who create value deserve a proportionate share of that value and this depends on the proper negotiation of self interest.  If the negotiation is not proper, but unfair, then self interest is not fully served and as a result motivation erodes.

Increasingly the nature of the reward is more than simply financial.  Employees are looking for a diverse and intensely personal cocktail of rewards with ingredients that include fulfilment, challenge, flexibility, creativity and personal and professional development.  These are essential components of self interest for most of us and help to keep people motivated at least as much as money, which is just a hygiene factor.

Appreciation also needs to be part of the mix.  It absolutely is part of the package of ‘rewards’ that most of us look for at work.  And it is a part of the job that many managers struggle with as they tend to leave things alone until they go wrong.

And perhaps we (professional management educators) need to do more with managers on ‘motivation’ as an emergent property – the preconditions for which require a full and proper negotiation of self interest(s) and the development of the employees power to pursue it with vigour.

And while I don’t think that people are any different in the third sector, I do think that the cocktail of self interest often needs to be much more carefully balanced.  And many third sector managers forget this at their peril.  Few of us join social enterprises to be overt vehicles for the delivery of government policy.  We join social enterprises to promote social justice.  And the ‘self interests’ of politicians and the promotion of social justice are rarely properly negotiated.

Your thoughts….

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Its All About the Relationships, Stupid!

One of the basic assumptions behind my work in the Progressive Managers’ Network is that excellent performance depends on excellent relationships.  Relationships that are characterised by:

  • engagement
  • honesty
  • 2-way communication
  • creativity and innovation from everyone
  • development and progress

And still the most common objection that I face in my training?  “Mike I haven’t got time to spend building relationships.  I just need to get them to do as I ask.”  The longer term pursuit of excellence is consistently hi-jacked for the short term acceptance of mediocrity.

Great post here from Carmine Coyote which provides some clues about why getting relationships right really matters.

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Holding Difficult Conversations at Work

Much of my work is about providing managers with safe and effective ways to have conversations that they would instinctively prefer to avoid.  Conversations about behaviours and approaches that don’t contribute towards excellent performance.

If they do choose to address the issue most managers have to force themselves to say things, to use words and phrases that are not (yet), a part of their everyday management vocabulary.

There is a great post here by Steve Roesler that offers some useful and practical insights into getting these difficult conversations right.

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Are You a Jackass or a Progressive?

There is a widespread belief that the best way to manage a donkey is through a combination of stick and carrot.

As long as the right ‘extrinsic motivation’ is applied at the right time, at the right end, there is a chance that the donkey will do what we want it to.

  • Unless of course the donkey has had enough carrots for one day
  • Or becomes so accustomed to the stick that it is no longer effective
  • Or the donkey sees it self interest lying elsewhere – enough carrots for one day – I am heading off for the nettles….

Then the donkey is very likely to go into stubborn mode.

We might try bigger sticks and juicier carrots, but the donkey is not for turning.  ‘Jackass Management’ no longer works.

Even when it is working as well as it can, the best we get from ‘Jackass Management’ is a situation where the donkey does the bare minimum neccesary to pursue the carrot and avoid the stick.

Yet ‘Jackass Management’ is still incredibly prevalent.  Sub-conscious perhaps – but prevalent.  Our own self image as ‘an enlightened and person centred manager’ may prevent us from seeing our own jackass tactics.  But we cannot escape the mediocrity that our ‘Jackass’ Management creates.

The alternative is a management that is based on a genuine relationship in which both parties self interests are clearly negotiated and mutually pursued. Management in which both parties strive to give us much as they can – because they believe that is in their own self interest – rather than doing as little as they can to get the carrot and avoid the stick.

I call this Progressive Management.

Making the shift from ‘Jackass Management’ to Progressive Management is not difficult.  It does take some time, a little technique and a lot of courage.  It leads to:

  • significant productivity improvements
  • increased well being
  • reduced workplace stress
  • more creativity and innovation
  • better employee engagement
  • lower costs and
  • happier customers.

It requires us to see our job as helping other people to do great work rather than as donkeys to be manipulated to our will.

So why don’t more people make the transition from ‘Jackass’ to ‘Progressive’?  Because they are too busy wielding sticks and carrots to take the time.

If you would like to learn how to be a Progressive Manager then please visit www.progressivemanagersnetwork.co.uk

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Change is Good

I have just come across a really good online video, thanks to Phil Gerbyshack, called Change is Good.  It seems to sum up so many of the principles that I try to teach people how to practice in my PMN workshops.  (There are still someplaces left on Giving and Getting Great Feedback on 20th May in Leeds).

The film is only a couple of minutes long but contains so many great hints, tips, reminders and pointers to profound truths that should have immense implications for personal and organisational change.

Why not show it at your next team meeting and see what reactions, suggestions and feedback it elicits.

The video has a soundtrack – but still works if you are not sound enabled!

Change Is Good – The Movie

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“Partnership working?” What the hell is Partnership working”?

This has been my favourite tweet of the last 24 hours!

It caused me to pause and reflect.  It made think about how poorly it is defined and what a mess most partnerships are.  Many people find it a Herculean proposition to drive change in a single organisation.  What hope for progress in a partnership?

Yet few organisations or individuals can achieve what matters without involving others in some way.  If you need the support, permission, co-operation or resources of others to achieve what matters to you then you will have to work in partnership.

In my experience the best partnerships are formed when each partner:

is very clear and open about their self interest

has enough power to make things happen and is adept at using power to manage win/win negotiations with other partners.

In the worst partnerships, partners:

  • are unclear about their self interest, or keep it ‘under the table’
  • have little power or autonomy either in their own organisation or with partners
  • are inept at negotiating win/wins and partnerships are characterised by slow (if any) progress

My best guess is that if you work in a partnership and progress is slow, you are suffering from one or more of these symptoms.

The solutions:

  • Clarify and ‘go public’ with your self interest – if you are not prepared to go public then you are selfish rather than self interested.
  • Work on building both trust and power so that you can negotiate win/wins effectively and efficiently.

Good leadership and great development for partners can help partnerships to become significantly more effective.

Some people get very uncomfortable with  the idea of negotiating their own self interest rather than ‘co-operating’ and ‘serving’.  There are a lot of reasons behind this.  This article sheds light on some of them.

Conscious Capitalism

I have been watching a movement develop over recent years called ‘conscious capitalism’ or ‘conscious business’.  It provides a different take on what it means to be a ‘social enterprise’.  The idea is being pioneered by amongst others, John Mackey, CEO of Wholefoods Supermarket.  In a recent speech he says:

A Conscious Business is one which has two major attributes that define it:

  1. It has a deeper purpose beyond only making profits. Just like individual people by following their hearts can discover their own sense of deeper purpose, so can the business enterprise. I believe that great businesses have great purposes that inspire them to higher levels of success. Think for a moment about some of the greatest businesses in the world and ask yourself whether they exist to fulfill a greater purpose beyond only maximizing profits. Certainly Apple does, driven by its intense desire to create “insanely great” technology which transforms our lives in positive ways. Clearly Google does too with its passion for discovery and desire to operate an ethical company. One of the best examples in the world is Grameen Bank in Bangladesh founded by 2006 Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammed Yunus, which exists to end poverty in Bangladesh and throughout the world. Every business has the potential to discover and actualize its higher purpose—it has the potential to become more conscious.
  2. The Conscious Business also understands the interdependency of all of the major stakeholder groups—customers, employees, investors, suppliers, communities, and the environment—and the business is managed to consciously create value for all of these major stakeholders. Instead of viewing the stakeholders in terms of win-lose relationships with conflicts of interest dominating their interactions, the Conscious Business understands that there is a harmony of interests between the stakeholder groups and that by working together greater value can be created for all of them. At Whole Foods we understand that management’s most important job is to make sure the team members are well trained and happy at their work. The team members in turn understand that their job is to satisfy and delight the customers and happy customers result in happy investors through the prosperity of the business. A virtuous circle is created with all of the stakeholders flourishing together.

Who will create the Conscious Businesses of the 21st century—businesses that have deeper purpose and are managed consciously to create value on behalf of all of the stakeholders?

John Mackey, May 2008

This feels to me like a much more coherent, honest and powerful approach to making business work for the planet than cleaving it along  ‘social enterprise = good; for profit = bad’ divide.

Of course words are relatively easy (although John Mackey has found that words have got him into lots of how water in the past.  We have to judge the movement by its achievements.  But I am hopeful.

You can read a much fuller paper by John Mackey called ‘Conscious Capitalism’ here.