Sunday, 2 April 2017

Go your own way

This is the fourth in a series of blogs discussing the concept of motivation and what its sources might be. Its prompted by a conversation I had with Bee Heller, from The Pioneers. Bee asserts that there are seven different sources of motivation, and is writing about each of them on The Pioneers website. 

We decided I'd write a commentary piece about each one on my own blog, and look at what's happened in organisations I've worked in and with - whether the source of motivation Bee's blog discussed has been used to good effect or been neglected; what's worked well in terms of creating an environment that enhances that motivation; and what's not worked so well or undermined that motivation for people? 

Here's Bee's blog on Autonomy. In it she talks about the power of self determination. She highlights three main points.
  • That extrinsic motivation can undermine any intrinsic motivation.
  • That extrinsically imposed deadlines also undermine any intrinsic motivation
  • That choice enhances intrinsic motivation

I'd not argue with those three points to be honest but I'm going to see what examples I can give of how this works in practice.

Bee says that if you give people a sense of autonomy, the perception of self-direction and choice, they are more likely to be motivated by the work they do for its own sake. She then gives some tips for managers on how to achieve this without causing chaos.

And yet look at some of the best examples of true autonomy in the workplace - Google, with their 20% of individual time spent on entirely personal projects; and Zappos, with their system of holocracy.  Both of these are companies that are doing well and which attract an awful lot of people to want to work for them.  Its not like the chaotic nature of things is having an adverse impact.

But, would you want to work there?

Many would.  But some wouldn't.

I've noticed that autonomy is fantastic for many people but others simply don't want it.

I've worked with people who have shied away from autonomy and empowerment, and who, when consulted about things and asked their opinion, have outright said that they prefer it when others simply tell them what's happening and what to do.

But autonomy CAN be a powerful motivator. I worked with a senior ICT professional who took this to the extreme. No-one knew where he was, what he was working on or when he might turn up to a meeting or produce a piece of work. And yet, he was considered a visionary futurologist. When he could set his own goals/targets/deadlines, he was awesome. Unfortunately these often clashed with those needed by the organisation, and so despite his own level of motivation and happiness, he was a source of frustration to others. And ultimately when he began being micromanaged by a new executive, he reacted badly to the lack of autonomy and left soon after, very unhappily, despite the micromanagement being a reaction, admittedly overeager, to the way he'd worked in the past.

So yes, autonomy motivates, but it only motivates the individual and may not necessarily do good things for the organisation.

On Bee's second point about whether reward clouds the motivation, I'd agree. I do a lot of blogging for myself and others, and speaking at conferences. I love doing both and, if you're someone who books speakers or bloggers for conferences, you should know that I am DAMNED good at it. And good looking too. I consider myself something of a Triple Threat.

*takes tongue out of cheek

So I do these things more or less for nothing, because I enjoy doing them. But what if someone said they'd pay me to blog or gave me deadlines in which I had to blog. I can say with 100% certainty some of the enjoyment would go out of it, as at the moment I am in control and am not doing it for money.

I had a similar situation when I was involved locally in the management side of a sport I play.  I did it for nothing and enjoyed it, and saw a lot of national success too for the teams I managed over a sustained period of time.  And then someone offered to pay me - not much I should add, but a token figure - for taking on some administration for the sport.

And I walked away, I just wasn't bothered any more. I wasn't doing it for the money, just for the love of the sport.  Money made it seem like a job, and I already had one of those.

I also agree that choice enhances intrinsic motivation. I have a friend who was the most senior marketing professional in a place he worked for 12 years.  He had complete control over what he did, when, where and how - and he loved it - and in this case, he was in sync with the organisation too - no conflicts, and lots of success. And then suddenly, the company merged and another marketing professional was inserted above him.  In a flash the degree of choice and control he had was gone, and he soon hated the job in the newly merged organisation.  He's moved on since, but he's fallen foul of similar situations in new organisations, where he's not been able to replicate the element of choice he once had, and he's very unhappy as a result, with motivation on the floor.

So what does this all mean?

Firstly, Bee's right.  If you can do things for the love of them rather than for any reward, then you're motivated more.  If you can set your own path to complete your tasks, and have a large degree of choice, then you're also more motivated.

But how often in anyone's career do we have these things, and moreover, how often are they desirable things for organisations?

Looking back at the people I worked with who disliked autonomy, I suspect they're not alone. Organisations, unless they're Zappos, HAVE to have some element of control over their employees, and that's a shame but necessary in many cases.

But, its not an impossible situation - when was the last time you, as an employee, sat down with someone who works for or with you, or with your own manager, and talked about how much autonomy you'd like to have?  How much control you'd like over what you do?

I suspect not very often.

But maybe, just maybe, that conversation could unlock something for both of you.

Till next time...

Gary 

PS - in other news, its been a hard few weeks at home - lots of change, upheavals and decisions made about futures.  I need a holiday...