The Complications of Motivation

What do we usually try to motivate others with? Well, with what motivates us, of course! If you love the acquisition of wealth, you think everyone else does too. If you are a chocoholic, you can’t imagine NOT being motivated by a king size Snickers bar. In fact, you might regard those who are not motivated by chocolate as members of an alien species or at least clinically insane.

The fact of the matter is that we are all motivated by dramatically different things. Businesses spend thousands and thousands of dollars every year on attempts at motivation – contests and prizes, bonuses, special events and other activities, all kinds of things. But often what is lacking is a true understanding of the people the company is trying to motivate.

Steven Reiss, Ph.D., a professor at the Ohio State University College of Medicine, has conducted in-depth research into motivation that goes well beyond Maslow’s hierarchy. His work identified 16 different things that motivate individuals. Most of the standard tools of motivation fit into some of the categories, but without understanding the individual you are working with, you can’t understand what truly motivates her. That explains why effective motivation is so difficult. If it were as easy as giving everyone some money or some chocolate, there wouldn’t be so many morale and motivation problems.

For example, the company Christmas party is perfect for those motivated by social contact, but might actually be a punishment for those who prefer time with their children. The only way to really know what motivates your employees is by observing them, listening to them, and (gasp!) asking them.



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