Harnessing motivation is key to transforming our experience of work. Only through people understanding and taking responsibility for what drives them, and finding ways to have their motivators met on a consistent basis at work, will they have the energy to show up to work wholly committed , expressing themselves fully, doing what they love and contributing more to the work that they do. Only by understanding motivation can people ensure that they get more energy from work than they expend doing it. Only in this way, can their efforts be sustainable and the human experience of work be improved.
What is motivation?
Put simply, its the reason for acting or behaving in a particular way. It is why we do what we do. Behind every action, positive or negative, is motivation. However, you can't see motivation. It is invisible. It is a feeling or an energy. We only see what it touches. Energy sparks action in the form of skill application or behaviour.
We see, therefore, that there is a distinction between motivation and behaviour - two aspects of performance which are often conflated. We assert that to have self-awareness, it is not enough to look at your personality, preferred ways of working and traits (which we see so beautifully explored in psychometric profiling tools such as Insights Discovery® and Myers Briggs®), but also that we need to look through the lens of motivation.
What motivates people?
Ask a room full of people what motivates them, and you will get a wide range of answers from independence to security, from money to purpose. Ask a person what has motivated them in their life, and it is likely to have been different at different ages and stages. After all, motivation, like energy, is never static.
One key contributor to the discussion around motivation is Maslow and his Hierarchy of Needs. He asserted that there is a particular order in which our needs are to be met in order for us to be motivated. At the base, we have physiological needs which include food and water. Once these needs are satisfied, we look to having our safety needs met - whether that's physical safety (the buildings in which we live and work) and/or psychological safety (which enables us to have employee voice). Once met, we look to build relationships with colleagues and to feel a sense of belonging. We then go on to having our esteem needs met - through extra salary, promotion, expertise and positions of authority. Only then, according to Maslow, do we look to fulfilling our full potential through expanding into our independence, creativity and purpose.
Distinguishing needs from wants
There is no doubt that this hierarchy has its uses and is still has some relevance today. However, in the developed world, with the privilege of our basic needs so often met simply from doing (any) job, our attention must surely turn to how we can do work which feeds our soul, contributes to the human experience of work, and where we can contribute fully from a place of flow. It is not enough to simply work.
So our work is about how we can have our basic needs met (to meet expenses for food, shelter and water) AND how we can have our higher level needs met AND how we have our wants met.
Higher order needs are those needs which you only notice when they aren't being met. They are different for different people and change throughout our lives. Money is often a higher order need - once you have enough, having more of it doesn't drive you to enjoy your work more or contribute more. The motivation caused by a pay increase often only lasts a month or two. Learning, for some, may be a higher order need; once you know 'enough' you aren't driven to learn more, go on courses, explore new ways to master your subject.
Wants, on the other hand, are those things which we desire and which enable us to thrive. In a way, we can never get enough of them and so we are driven to find more of these motivators. Once we get a taste of freedom, we want more freedom, for example.
Rather than there being a set order to these wants and needs, each person has they own order. You might have (more) money as a want or a need. You might have learning, purpose or security as a want or a need. Motivational Maps can help you identify the order and intensity of your needs and wants.