There is still a lot of talk in HR circles about how the bonus culture that got the banks into a financial crisis is still alive and well.  But there is another aspect to motivation that no one has mentioned.  It lies beneath the surface and could even be damaging your organisation, business or team. 

Understanding motivation

Most people think of motivation as something that will get us to take action; to get “in motion” but this is not always the case.  Motivation is not only about taking action because there are times when we are motivated to wait and think things through; if, for example, we feel we need more specific information, or the timing is not right because we need more evidence or verification.  In fact in some roles it is critical to have people who are motivated to wait, analyse and review the situation before taking action.

The LAB Profile distinguishes the level of action a person demonstrates as ‘Proactive’ or ‘Reactive’ behaviour.  The Proactive person likes to initiate and get started, but if they have high levels of this trait, they may not give things enough thought which can lead to missing some details that may prove to be important.  The Reactive person is motivated to wait and consider the situation.  They need more time, information or evidence for analysis.

In the context of eating, some people will feel a pang of hunger and immediately go and get a snack.  They may even have a stash of snacks in their desk!  They are proactive about eating.  Others are more patient with their hunger and can tolerate feeling hungry until they decide it's the right time to eat.  Some very diet-conscious people may spend a considerable amount of their lunch break considering the healthiest option and where to get it, leaving little time for actually getting and eating it, or they may even skip a meal.

With goals and targets some folks like to dive in and get started, this gives a feeling of momentum and progress.  Others feel a strong need to plan, consider what is needed and only then take action.  They like to look before they leap.

You may know some people who are always busy doing something.  Getting started is critical to them and in their view ‘analysis leads to paralysis’.  Seemingly endless discussions frustrate them because they just don’t see the point of talking about it when (in their mind) doing something about it is what's required.  However, to those of you who need to consider the facts they may seem rather impatient or impulsive.  Proactive people are also prone to responding quickly to emails without considering the impact of any possible misunderstandings.

It’s important to note that these traits are neither good nor bad.  They are just more appropriate in some contexts than in others.  For example, you want a more proactive person in customer services or in sales. In finance or planning roles you need more considered types who are more reactive.

What gets you to act – pain or pleasure? 

Have you ever asked a colleague or team member “What do you want?” only to have them answer with all the things they don’t want?  This can be a little frustrating but it is important to recognise their motivation pattern in that context.  They are more motivated to move away from their problems and the associated pain, than towards their goals.  In fact, they may not even know what their goals are.  They become so preoccupied with the problems (perceived or real) that they are unable to focus on what they want.  It is outside of their awareness.  This can also lead to them being poor at prioritising.  However, you need people with this trait where there is an increased risk to your business.  For example, it is wise to be on the look-out for potential problems in recruitment, quality control or with regard to health and safety at work.  People in these roles need to love finding problems to solve.  They are motivated to move away from the pain of getting it wrong.

On the other hand, you have people who are goal oriented and they are focused on what they want.  They are constantly prioritising and re-prioritising in order to move towards what they want to have, or want to achieve.  For them problems are negative distractions and they are not motivated to look out for what may go wrong.  They often feel that discussing problems is being negative and unhelpful.  But this can lead to them being surprised by problems that seem to suddenly appear out of nowhere!   These people will thrive in goal-oriented and highly targeted jobs because they seek the pleasure of achievement.

Combination Patterns

While individual LAB Profile patterns can be a big driver of behaviour, it is not uncommon to find a couple of patterns at work when we see extremes of behaviour.

I worked in the Hospitality sector for many years and it was not uncommon for managers to be very proactive and goal focused in the context of recruitment.  They would place an advert, see a few people and choose one just to get a person on the floor.  There was little or no consideration given to whether they were a good match for the team, had the right attitude for the level of service required or even the right skills to do the job.   The managers were so focused on getting an immediate result (a person in uniform on the floor) that they ignored any indicators of the potential problems to come.  This is an example where a combination of high proactivity and high goal focus can lead to poor results, conflict and problems further down the line.

The City Boys and Girls

In fact, it is the lethal combination of these two patterns that has been an underlying cause of the financial crisis.  The city boys and girls and their managers, were all very proactive and goal focused.  They simply ignored any data or information that was showing an unacceptable level of risk with the credit they were dishing out on a massive scale.

The potential problem of defaulting payments lurking in the background was not part of their awareness, or if it was, they were so focused on taking action and achieving their targets that it seemed irrelevant.

The power of motivational traits is not to be underestimated because they have a massive impact on our awareness – what we are conscious of.  The problem oriented folks who tried to say that there was a need for constraint were voices in the wilderness.  They were just being negative.  No one was listening.  It was simply deleted as irrelevant because it didn’t fit the prevailing motivational pattern. 

The Pendulum Effect

The lack of checks and balances in the banks meant that no-one was thinking about the downside, the possible problems.  Now, even as we very slowly crawl out of the downturn, the pendulum has swung to the other extreme where the flow of money is very tight.  When the credit bubble burst the context changed and the banks didn’t trust businesses or one another. This is still motivating lenders to consider all the problems, risks and what may go wrong.  The banks are now in the grip of another lethal combination: being reactive and problem oriented which can lead to procrastination and total inactivity.

Which way is the pendulum swinging in your business or with your team?

Managing and motivating in uncertain times

All the mixed messages of austerity, rising prices and recovery that the media seem to relish are making many staff uncertain and nervous so it is our responsibility to keep them motivated.  This will require a flexible approach that keeps your ‘Towards’ or goal oriented people focused on their targets and helps them to achieve specific tasks.  For the ‘Away From’ problem oriented folks you will need to give them specific problems to fix, obstacles to remove and let them know what will happen if deadlines are not met.

For your proactive team members make sure that you have some checks and balances.  Are they busy doing the right things or just being busy? 

For your reactive types you can motivate them by matching their pattern. For example “Now that you have had enough time to consider the situation I need you to have that plan ready for me by midday tomorrow.”

If you would like to find out what really motivates you, or discover the key motivational drivers of any member of your team Click Here.

If you want to prevent misunderstandings and avoid your people becoming demotivated Click Here.

Finally, if you have any particular questions or feedback about this article or any other communication issues, why not drop me a line by Clicking Here.

Remember . . . stay curious

With warm regards

David Klaasen