I was talking yesterday with a friend of mine who owns a fairly large company and he was lamenting his firm’s personnel problems. Namely, how do you motivate people to not suck? He says he has tried higher salaries and incentive programs and extra benefits and morale-boosting bullshit, yet still, he has to fire people for things like getting drunk at home when they claim to be out making sales.
In our conversation I mentioned that from what I’ve read, money is a poor motivational tool. Any resulting good feelings from a pay raise or bonus are short-lived at best, and people quickly return to their original state of (dis)contentment. I claimed that many studies have found that job security, advancement, type of work, and a place you’re happy to work are rated as more highly motivational, while pay and benefits are lower on the list. Enjoyment of your job, personal fulfillment and personal relationships are also rated higher than purely monetary concerns.
So today, I was reading up on some of these ideas and came across this article. And one idea in particular caught my attention as it relates to running:
Many of us pour our time and love into avocations — that is, activities for which we will never be compensated — nicely making the point that money for most of us is not the point.
What then is the point? What motivates us (I’m assuming any readers here are running junkies) to “pour our time and love” into running? And does the answer to that question provide some insight into the motivational needs of the other aspects of our lives, e.g. work? Obviously I don’t run for money, yet for some reason I care more deeply and think longer about my running life than my work life. Would I care more and strive harder if offered money to run? Right now, work is a job, running is a passion. What does running provide that work doesn’t? It seems like those should be answerable questions. Off the top of my head, I would say running provides: personal growth, sense of achievement, self-expression, social relationships, a measure of oneself, joy, creativity, activity. I guess the trick then is to bring those same qualities to your work, or find work that better allows for them.
Another related subject on this motivational theme is that of “raising children, an activity reasonably certain to produce a net loss.” The article claims,
At least 70 studies have found that rewards tend to undermine interest in the task (or behavior) itself; this is one of the most thoroughly replicated findings in the field of social psychology.
As parents of two young boys, my wife and I have tried all measure of “motivational” tactics to alter and teach behaivor, and she claims that rewards have proven to be the most useful (I point out that my mom’s leather belt was pretty convincing when I was a kid, but she kind of frowns on that ;). In light of the above quote, however, I wonder if we’re missing something.
So I’m interested to know your thoughts. What motivates you (and your kids)?
4 Replys to “On motivation”
Alfie Kohn has written widely on education as well. He is persuasive and well reasoned. Also a bit of a nut, which I like. Don’t know about the kids, but I do know that unless students feel ownership and are able to construct their own sense of a new idea or concept, they are really not motivated to learn. Perhaps for running, the jewel is that we have control over our actions, we own it completely. And this makes it powerful (And scary at times) for us. I have been examining my own obsession with it lately and am worried that the worth i feel from battering my body for 85-90 miles a week is all externally motivated and really does nothing for my core self-worth. It is important for me to run at the moment, but at the same time, I have to be really careful to keep it in perspective. I have been thinking about the same things lately as you have so nicely brought up in this post. Why do I (who abhors early mornings) get up to run at 5:45, yet can’t manage to get to my real work in such a disciplined way?
For me, running is simple. It provides immediate feedback, and it clears the head. I wish I had a better idea of why.
thanks for the comments fletch.
when you say, “I have to be really careful to keep it in perspective”, i wonder if to be truly great, ONE has to NOT keep it in perspective. i’ve never known any world-class athletes in their prime, but i wonder if to reach that level one has to give themselves up completely to the obsession, personal consequences be damned? “Duel in the Sun” comes to mind here. And maybe this is even more true in something like running as opposed to say baseball, which doesn’t seem to require the fanatical commitment.
it’s a fine line between selfishness and self-worth.
DV, cool post. As a parent of a 3 yr old girl, I still struggle to determine what motivates my her. Sometimes it is the carrot method, sometimes the fear of losing a toy for a day (I hate to use this one), sometimes it is just to make mommy and daddy happy (she does this on her own sometimes and it is incredibally sweet). As much as we can, we try and encourage her to know what she is doing and why (tricky with a 3 yr old) and let her do what she thinks is right, which fortunately for us she is pretty good at right now.
As far as running goes, for me I am totally with you and fletch with regards to the sometimes extreme amount of committment it takes. Although I do almost all of my running while the wife and kid are asleep, I often wonder if I put more energy into them and less into running would I be a better dad and husband? Or, am I a better dad and husband because I have this passion for running that I am able to commit to? Running provides some self-worth for me, self-esteem and the obvious more energy, better physical fitness…Oh yeah and that elusive Boston Qualifier time and hopefully 3 hr marathon someday! Pure selfish bragging rights on those though.
On the work front, I am blessed to have a job which provides me a lot of self-satisfaction in helping the Austin community…99% of the time it is wonderful and I love to come to work. I had a job I hated and can’t imagine going back to it. I saw that money was little or no object when dealing with people in the workplace. It had almost entirely to do with the boss, the workplace climate and whether the workers felt like management cared about them (or were they just an expendable commodity). If the workforce felt like they had a say in things, the morale was really good even in really tough times (I went through 6 rounds of lay-off in 5 years at a local tech company….1 big reason I left..that sucked).
Good luck. See you out there.
I recall the various theories we studied in our Organizational Behavior class back in grad school (man that class was boring) the key underlying theme is dissatisfaction either with yourself or with those you want to motivate. The outcome of the motivational effort is to induce extraordinary behavior or desirable ordinary/habitual behavior which ultimately is extraordinary behavior for the subject (motivating the kids to brush their teeth regularly is quite extraordinary for them).
As I recall the most effective theory for motivating others is the Equity Theory. The gist of this theory is that the subject believes they are somehow receiving special treatment and therefore must make up with extraordinary behavior. An example would be an employer taking a job candidate aside and telling them they were not qualified but they are willing to take a chance on the prospect and make an offer anyway. This psychology also proved effective in improving performance in groups as long as the members identified with the group and had a corresponding reference/peer group to compare to. The key is having a peer group to compare. Hopefully the desired behavior has become habit before the novelty of special treatment has worn off.
So there are two things keep in mind first just stay dissatisfied and second feel lucky to be in the Gazelles. And if you should happen find yourself content just hope that Pavlovian Behavior has already set in… It is morning so I must run.