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Make Motivation Stick

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Motivation is the elusive elixir. Not only does it help people do good work, and do it faster, but it also helps them feel good about it while they're doing it. Yet motivation always seems temporary, fleeting. We call a meeting, bring in a motivational speaker, and fire up the team. Yet, we know it won't last.

What if we could make it last? What if we could make it easy for everyone on your team to stay motivated day in and day out, regardless of what was going on around them? You could expect higher levels of performance from everyone and create a team with an unstoppable can-do attitude.

Despite its elusive nature, motivation is rather simple to understand. Motivation can be defined as a concerted effort to produce a desired result. So let's think about that for a moment. Why would anyone make a concerted effort to produce a result?

Underlying all motivation must be a belief that winning is possible, that the result is attainable. When people stop believing that they can win, that they have little chance for success, their efforts directed at achieving that success fade. However, people can remain motivated day after day when they are playing a game they believe they can win.

Motivation can be made a permanent part of your organization's environment when you provide the three keys that will allow your team members to believe that they can win, that they are unstoppable.

What's the Plan?

The first key is a strategy. A strategy is a best-guess plan that expedites the accomplishment of desired goals. Motivation depends on having a clear path to accomplishing a desired result. It's OK if every detail is not in place and a few variables exist, but the path to success must not be shrouded in fog. However, the plan must be complete enough to permit the belief in a successful end result.

When the plan is in doubt, motivation is ruled out.

While desire is a powerful motivator, so is anger. When Osama bin Laden was linked to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the wrath of angry Americans was focused on him. Emotions were high, and it would have been easy to fill an airplane bound for Afghanistan to hunt him down.

If you were on that plane, imagine how your excitement and motivation would soon fade when you learned that the "plan" was to drop you into Afghanistan and let you figure out how to find Osama. Without a clear path for getting past the enemy and finding bin Laden, your early determination would soon turn to despair. We all need a plan that we believe can work.

It's Tool Time!

The second key to motivation is tools. To stay motivated, individuals must believe that they have access to the tools they need to execute the plan. No matter how wonderful the plan, excitement will fade as soon as people discover that resources are inadequate to permit delivery of the goods.

This is the common de-motivator present in the "do more with less" admonition. Expectations of employees are raised and more is expected while resources are systematically removed. Left to their own cleverness, employees can often find ways to get more done with fewer resources if they are allowed to substitute a more productive resource for a more costly one. Unfortunately these "do more with less" initiatives often remove tools and resources without permitting for their replacement by the necessary cost efficient tools to get the higher expectations accomplished.

When tools don't exist, motivation is at risk.

Let's go back to Afghanistan. I'm betting you'd like some tools, and I'm not talking about a shovel or nice power saw. A gun would be good for starters. And bullets. While we're making a list, let's add grenades, two-way radio, Kevlar vest, and a rocket launcher. Oh, food and a canteen would be really good. And a map to get us back home.

"Do more with less" rings hollow when the stakes are high, like when your life is on the line. Make sure your team has the proper tools to tackle the tasks ahead of them and dispatch them productively and with confidence.

No Training? No Can-Do!

The third key to maintaining motivation is skills. Individuals must be trained on the skills that allow them to use the tools in the context of execution of the plan. It's not enough to have the resources if their application is left to question.

Skills training still may not accomplish the desired result if it is delivered outside of the context of the plan. A hammer can be used for both driving nails and pulling them out, and it's important to know what needs to be accomplished so that its application supports our desired outcome.

Without skills and training, motivation will be waning.

Forget the guns, Kevlar, and rocket launcher for a moment. Let's suppose we drop you into a tank, such as the magnificently sophisticated Bradley Fighting Vehicle. Without training on how to operate it, you'd be a sitting duck. Maybe you could figure out how to operate it, but possibly at great danger to yourself. What if you loaded the cannon improperly and caused a misfire? How far could you drive without running out of fuel in enemy territory?

At least the tank is firmly planted on solid ground. If put behind the controls of an Apache helicopter without adequate training, the risk to you goes through the roof! Without proper training, motivation is quickly replaced by frustration and fear.

The same things happen every day in workplaces all around us. People show up to work in the morning without a clear idea of how they contribute to the big picture, and without the tools and training to get the job done. Deliver the keys of strategy, tools, and skills, and your people will understand where they're going and how they're going to get there. Those keys will maintain motivation, excitement and enthusiasm by establishing confidence. They assure a successful outcome and are reason enough for employees to stay engaged and fervently work toward the big, bodacious goal you're ultimately after.

With the keys of strategy, tools, and skills, making motivation stick won't seem so elusive after all.

© 2004 Paul Johnson. All rights reserved.

Note: This article is available for reprint at no charge. We only ask that you include our copyright notice in your reprint, along with the About the Author (byline) information we provide at the end of the article.

Paul Johnson of Panache and Systems LLC consults and speaks on business strategy for systematically boosting sales performance using Shortcuts to Yes?. Check out more salesforce development tips at http://panache-yes.com/tips.html. Call Paul direct in Atlanta, Georgia, USA at (770) 271-7719.


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