For all my passion and research into motivation I have to respectfully admit that motivation by itself is shit. By itself, motivation doesn’t do anything. The most motivated people in the world sometimes still just sit on their butts.

What is needed is behavior.

It doesn’t matter if motivation is intrinsic or extrinsic. It doesn’t matter if my motivation applies to the A Drive or the D Drive (or the B or C Drive for that matter). If I don’t start or stop doing something (i.e., behavior) then the amount of motivation I have is a moot point.

Motivation is important in that it leads to behaviors. Motivation is one of the key elements in achieving behavior change (starting or stopping something). But it is only one part. The guys from Vital Smarts, Patterson, Grenny, Maxfield, McMillan and Switzer came out with a book called “Change Anything” not too long ago. It sheds light on this problem. While it mostly talks about individual change, but their insights can be applied to all motivation. They state that when we fail to change, “…when it comes to personal change, we think first of our own lack of motivation.” The problem with this belief is that there are a number of other factors that influence whether or not we actually change.

Change is hard. That is why motivation is important. It is the gas that powers the change engine. We need it to push through the difficult times and persist with our change effort. Again, Patterson et. al., talk about the other influences on whether or not we change – there are social factors and environmental factors. We can be motivated to loose weight all we want, but if we hang out with people who are always going out and eating big meals and just watching T.V. and if we have a packet of Oreos in the cupboard and no carrots in the fridge – it is much harder (and some might say – even impossible) to change.

When we are designing motivational programs for our employees, we need to understand that no matter how good our incentive program is or how well we activate the 4-Drives – our employees will be hard pressed to change if the social and environmental aspects are stacked up against them. If we want greater collaboration and teamwork, not only do we need to design the compensation plan so that it supports that, but we might have to look at how we configure our work space and what activities we allow while at work. If we want to get people out in front of customers more, we need to explore what are the routines that we have our employees do that inhibit this or what are the social/cultural pressures that might get in the way of this behavior.

So it boils down to understanding that while motivation is important, it cannot be the only thing that we focus on. We need to broaden our perspective to understand how motivation fits into the larger behavior picture.

And so while you might be motivated to agree or disagree with me – I’ll only know if you leave a comment (and thus, do a behavior). Click on “leave a comment” below.