It seems everybody has an opinion on motivation. Talk to any human resource generalist, business leader, or manager and you’ll find a person who has given a great deal of thought to this concept. Whether elaborate or complex, people naturally look for what moves or drives others to action.
Couple this “arm-chair psychologist” phenomenon with the multitude of consultants and businesses that know there is a great deal of money to be made by helping companies increase employee motivation and you get a hodgepodge of information including books, articles, blog posts, and training programs. I believe we have reached a point of motivation madness.
While there is nothing wrong with having many different perspectives and thoughts on the nature and application of motivation, the problem is that human resource and business leaders have a difficult time knowing what ideas and concepts really work. Unfortunately, where we stand today is that the field of employee motivation is overwhelmed with information that is not backed by sound research and is speculation at best.
So the question remains. How can we cut through all the academic and pop culture motivation madness to really know what motivates people?
First, we must start with determining what works based on solid scientific evidence. Scientific study helps us understand what works and what doesn’t. To truly understand what works consistently we have to use studies that utilize reliable and valid measures, that have been peer reviewed, replicated, and has consistency of environment and context for which we want to apply the principles.
A person can’t just say, I have a set of principles I created from my observations. There have been hundreds of books and articles written on the topic of motivation, leadership, management, and performance that rely on educated guesses. Over the years, we’ve found these observations to be misguided or flat out wrong.
The motivation system I use is based on two contemporary theories that provide the clearest picture of the phenomenon of human motivation yet. These two theories have the sound research findings (including my dissertation research) and give solid insight into the two overarching factors that drive human motivation. First, the internal motives that each person is born with and that drive a person’s desire, values, and personality traits. Second, the external environment that will either support or hinder optimal energy and effort towards a person’s internal drives.
The two theories that support my system are Basic Desires theory created by Steven Reiss, a professor at Ohio State University and Self-Determination Theory (SDT) created by professors Edward Deci and Richard Ryan at Rochester University. While these two theories have differences, I’ve gleaned the most applicable concepts of each to create a balanced and applicable system.
I’ll continue to talk more about these perspectives in future blog posts and explain how you can unleash your natural motivation and the motivation of the people you lead.