Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Highly Motivated

Ever met an unmotivated person?

Think again. If someone spends more time and energy each day scheming to get out of work, they're motivated, all right. Just not in the direction you would prefer.

If someone isn’t helping you to achieve your goals, there are three possible reasons.

a) Ignorance: They don’t know what you want.
b) Inability: They can’t do what you want.
c) Choice: They won’t do what you want.

Ignorance. If people don’t know what you want, the problem isn’t with them; it’s with you. Even if you know you’ve told them, don’t assume the message has really gotten across. You may not have been as clear as you could have been, and they may not have been listening as well as they might have. It's always a good idea to check to make sure people really do know what you want. If that's the only thing standing in the way of their action, you're done.

Inability. When we say “can’t do,” it’s a literal “can’t do”: if we offered a million dollar bounty, nothing would change. “Can’t do” situations can sometimes be fixed by training, by access to necessary resources, by going to a different person, or by altering your request. There’s nothing personal here, but merely a problem. You can fix it or you can’t.

Choice. If someone knows what you want and can do it, then they get to make a choice about whether to do it. Why would they choose not to do it? Again, three reasons:

a) Performance is punished
b) Failure is rewarded
c) Performance doesn’t matter

Watch out for “perverse incentives,” ways in which we inadvertently push people in the direction of the very behavior we want them to avoid. If you get rewarded for doing a great job with even more work, perhaps that great job isn’t completely in your own interest. If failure to exceed your quota for the month gets you better liked by your colleagues, and there’s not much consequence from management, failure may give you the greatest personal reward. If you think no one reads or cares about that weekly report, it doesn’t seem to matter much if you do it well or poorly.

When you’re in a leadership role or simply need help and cooperation from your colleagues, try to find out why they’re behaving as they do. If you know whether their behavior is a choice or not, you can pick the best strategy for getting results.

From Work Smart: Goal Setting (2nd edition), by Susan B. Wilson and Michael Dobson.

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