Motivation Made Simple
As a project manager, I need to be able to motivate people to perform and deliver for the projects that I manage. The success or the failure of my projects depends upon me being able to do this. The challenging aspect of the position is that I do not have the leverage that a manager or supervisor would over the resources that I work with.
I have been able to motivate people long before becoming a Project Manager. While in high school, college, serving in the Peace Corps and afterwards, I’ve often found myself leading teams and asking them to perform with me to reach a common goal. And I have been in situations where I’ve been motivated by others.
I did not fully understand the process of motivation until learning the theories and and drivers behind it. Once I began to learn these, it was as if a light was turned on in a dark room which revealed something that I had felt with my hands, but had never seen with my eyes.
Now that I am able to see it in its different parts and pieces, I am able to use it to help me succeed where I may have previously failed. It also allows me to look back on past experiences to see why an effort may have succeeded or failed.
The best explanation of motivation that I have read is in Allison Rossett’s First Things Fast: A Handbook for Performance Analysis. In it, she breaks down motivation to two key factors; Value and Confidence. It is so simple yet so true.
If you value doing something and know how to do it or are confident, then you are going to be motivated to perform that task and most likely, do it well.
If you value something, but are not sure how to do it (not confident), you may try to perform but chances are you will fall short. This short-coming may eventually diminish the value you place on the task, as it is not rewarding to do something you are not good at. On the other hand, you may learn to do it well, thereby gaining confidence.
If you know how to do something (confidence), but see no use for it or no value in doing it, then chances are, you are going to fall short. The difference here is that you are choosing not to perform.
Any way you break it down, it just works.
If we can provide confidence and value, we can sit back and watch the desired performance. I often use this to explain to clients why training may not always be the right solution. Providing confidence through training can often fall short because there may be other factors acting as barriers to performance and the training may not address the value component of the equation.
I believe that Keller’s ARCS model is a slightly more complex explanation of this simpler equation. Attention, Relevance and Satisfaction provide Value for the individual and Confidence often comes from training, job aids or other support tools. I would even argue that the Attention component may be redundant in many cases because if something is relevant and satisfying, then the attention will follow automatically. I find it difficult to think of a scenario where an individual would not be motivated just through R, C and S. In a situation where someone has to perform the same task repeatedly, it may be beneficial to put the A back in.
How does intrinsic motivation fit into this discussion? If someone is not performing for an external reward but instead performing for their own satisfaction, they are intrinsically motivated. In this type of motivation the value comes from within, but what about the confidence? What drives someone to try something they have never done before and may not be confident in? Here I believe that the confidence is not about knowledge related to the task or action, but instead it is confidence in their abilities to learn to perform. These people believe in a growth mindset.
I think I can, I think I can, I think I can….In the story The Little Engine That Could, the little engine was motivated because it valued helping the toys get to the other side of the mountain for the boys and girls in the town below. But what about confidence? The Little Engine had not tried to carry a load that large and therefore had not experienced past successes, so it could not be confident in that way. The little engine was however confident that it could do something that it had not done before and therefore was intrinsically motivated to perform. In this situation Motivation equals Value plus Confidence as well. I believe any theory of motivation has to tie back to that simple equation.