Stop trying to motivate people

October 31, 2014

Read time 1 min

Harry had noticed a lack of motivation in his team. People showed up late. Coffee breaks grew longer. Lunch was never under an hour. People were unenthusiastic in discussions.

He wanted to make things better, but didn’t quite know how. How could he motivate people? How could he help them feel engaged?

Harry had read about extrinsic and intrinsic motivation. Extrinsic motivation means rewards or punishments. With intrinsic motivation people do things because they actually want to do them. Harry wanted people to have intrinsic motivation. “How do you create intrinsic motivation?”, he asked.

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In short: you don’t. Intrinsic motivation, by definition, can not be created in others. Harry was asking the wrong question. The correct questions is: What’s wrong with the context? Why is the context not motivating? Instead of trying to motivate people, Harry needed to focus on creating an environment in which people can motivate themselves.

After shifting his focus from people’s motivation to the environment he started seeing things in a different light. Fortunately, the work itself was meaningful and interesting, but the surrounding organization was far from ideal. Together with the team they started looking for leverage in changing it, and that was already intrinsically rewarding.

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