Understanding The Motivation of Others

Motivation is a funny thing. Many think all one needs to do is articulate some reason to move in a certain direction, back it up with a rah rah speech, throw in an incentive as reward, and you’ll get people moving toward your direction. You won’t.

This seems counter intuitive to so many because they’ll go to some motivational talk. Seemingly get all riled up. Watch in agreement as everyone’s nodding heads, clapping hands, smiling at each other, and so forth – then they leave. And in about the same time the effect of a cup of espresso wears off; they’re right back to where they were before. Why?

It’s because most treat motivating someone as an external process. True motivation is internal. People in business and politics get this fundamental principle wrong every time because it seems counter intuitive to them. They look at the results of a meeting, see the people looking attentive, nodding in unison, and within hours to days it’s like the rally or meeting never happened. Their answer to this? More meetings, more speeches. Which in the end shuts down any motivation for listening to anything further.

This week we were confronted with the failed negotiations which forced the closing of Hostess Brands Inc. aka the makers of Twinkies®.

It would appear by all reports there was one faction of workers deciding to call the companies bluff. Everyone looking in from the outside both during and after the negotiations are left shaking their heads asking how could they have let it happen?

The company and others tried “motivating” a change in their position by appealing with the logical fact that they would shut down the entire corporation resulting in nearly 20,000 workers including themselves losing their jobs.

The consequences expressed for trying to resolve the workers demands were moot if those consequences have no real personal frame of reference. How many of these workers really believed the company would close or shut down? I would venture to say not many.

The danger that was being portrayed during the stand off seemed to be in the belief that the “motivation” for not allowing it to happen would be the dire consequences if no resolution were found. However – exactly how do you motivate someone to avoid the so-called “consequences” if they have no personal frame of reference to equate it to?

So far they’ve already been through a prior bankruptcy. They’ve watched company after company bantered across the media landscape where government, or some other entity has come in at some final hour to save or stop the disaster. Why would this time be any different?

Just as in love. I can spend an eternity trying to explain it, and you’ll never quite grasp it. Fall in love for 15 seconds, and you’ll never forget for all eternity. Without this fundamental understanding shared and felt by both parties – you won’t motivate anyone to do anything.

They tried to motivate these employees with incentives, warnings, and anything you can shake a stick at. However if internally they didn’t believe it would happen – and have no personal frame of reference of the consequences. You aren’t going to challenge their position successfully. Only the tragedy of finding the bluff was not a bluff will serve as a very real motivating factor for others in similar situations.

All others now know, and understand the consequences that are possible. This is what I referred to earlier as “internal.” Moving others by using or citing this example will now serve as a “motivation.” These consequences are now manifest. Self evident. Easily internalized, where a person can rationalize within ones self with emotion the very real possibility of – this can happen to me. Here is where true ‘motivation’ begins, and ends.

It’s sad tales like this that will now be the reference point in many forthcoming negotiations to motivate others in moving one way or the other. Such a large company, an American iconic brand, and thousands of workers losing their jobs with such immediacy. From this frame of reference you can now appeal to others in trying to ‘motivate” a person or group to move. Consequences can be internalized. They’ve become tangible.

People think, act, and will change direction in a heartbeat. Yet there is one caveat, and without it they’ll stand pat. They must actually believe what is being told to them is real. Without it – you’ll only be perceived as selling snake oil. And they’ve already got a closet full.

© 2012 Mark St.Cyr