Learn The Most Powerful Tool for Managing Peer Motivation

Motivation is more important than technical skill-set in predicting team effectiveness — and thus performance. There. I said it.

But few leaders know what to do about this, so they ignore it or resist understanding it.

I Wish This Were Less of a Secret

I want to tell you about the best tool available for managing peer motivation I have found: the “what’s-in-it-for-you” question.

Most of my clients — business leaders who want to learn more about effectively and successfully leading teams — hold the erroneous belief that they can’t motivate anyone over whom they don’t have direct control. Why? “Because I don’t have access to the carrots and sticks that management uses to motivate desired behavior” is what I hear time and time again in my talks and seminars. And I always respond that that’s good news — carrots and sticks only get people to show up.

Extrinsic (i.e., external, defined outside the target audience) motivators like pay, benefits, and reward systems generally get people to show up, but they don’t keep people engaged. Carrots and sticks actually put limits on motivation rather than release or expand it. Let’s examine why.

Here’s the Test

If I paid you $10,000 to do a job for me, and the money was your only motivation, you’d probably give it $10,000 worth of effort but not $11,000. You might even give it $9,000 worth if you thought that would please me. Likewise, if I held a gun to your head to do a job for me, how well would you do it? Your entire focus would be on not getting shot, and that’s how well you would perform — well enough to not get shot!

But if you were to do this job primarily for your own interests, how well might you do it? Very well indeed. Intrinsic motivators work like that, they are defined internally or inside the mind. To remember that, repeat this mantra: High performance is always voluntary.

The good news about not having control over your teammates and peers is that rather than attempt to control (i.e., limit) them with carrots and sticks, you can actually tap into their intrinsic motivations and release the governor on performance. How? Just ask, “What’s in it for you?”
“We can do that?” my clients ask in astonishment. “Sure,” I respond.

What’s-in-it-for-you is the most powerful tool I’ve found for managing peer motivation in my 20-year quest to demystify and teach truly effective teaming skills to smart business professionals.

Here’s what it might sound like:

You: “Joe, since we’re going to be working together on the XTF project for the next six months, I was wondering what’s in it for you to work on this project together?”

Joe: “You mean besides getting to keep my job and keeping my boss happy?”

You: “Yes, beyond that. What could be in it for you — beyond a pay check — to work on this project with me and the team?”

Joe: “Well, I’ve always wanted to learn this technology, you know, I think it could really be tweaked to do some things no one else has thought of. It would be really cool if we could explore those things on this project.”

Think About It

Your intent is to play win/win teamwork, so you will want to really know what’s in it for your teammates so you can support them in going after that.

If you sincerely ask, and stay with it until you get past the eternal banter about paychecks and bosses, you’ll accomplish two things:

  1. You’ll help your teammate tap into his or her own awareness of what will get him or her out of bed in the morning and looking forward to working with you. That’s the most important thing that you accomplish with the sincerely asked what’s-in-it-for-you question
  2. You’ll know how to support your teammate in winning on your joint project.

The Payoff

Taking the time to find out what motivates your teammates and employees pays off: you’ll gain valuable information about how to get the best performance from them and they will appreciate your interest in their input. Employees generally want to contribute their best effort and feel loyal to their company, which often translates into them performing beyond what is expected of them because they want to actively contribute to the company’s success.

It’s a win-win-win situation for all sides.

Christopher Avery, PhD, is a recognized authority on how individual and shared responsibility works in the mind and an advisor to leaders worldwide. Master leadership or build a responsible team (or family) at The Leadership Gift. Enjoy a more productive way to live and lead.

Posted in Coaching, Collaboration, Leadership on 10/05/2010 12:05 am
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