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Did You Cause Motivation or Just Behavior Change?

Jack was always late for work. His supervisor, Bill, spoke to him about it, documented formal counseling sessions, and explained that Jack would lose his job if he didn’t start showing up on time. Each time Bill spoke to him Jack improved, but only temporarily.

Bill was quite upset when he finally came to me requesting that Jack be fired. We discussed the situation and Bill commented that Jack used to be a good worker, and seemed to enjoy tackling difficult challenges. Lately, he had become unreliable. Bill said he had tried to motivate Jack to get back to being a valuable part of the team, but his efforts hadn’t worked.

We met together in my office and after I clearly told Jack his job was on the line, Bill said, “Look Jack. I don’t want to lose you. You were a valuable part of the team once and you can be again, but I have to be able to rely on you.”

Obviously uncomfortable, Jack had been staring at a spot on the floor. He looked up at Bill. “I’m trying but the medication the doctor gave me makes me sleep so soundly I often don’t even hear the alarm.”

I could see the surprise on Bill’s face. He knew nothing about a problem with medication. We discussed the issue and Bill suggested Jack consult with the doctor. Jack did, the doctor decreased the dosage, and soon Jack returned to being a valuable member of the team.

Bill had first addressed this problem with an attempt at behavior change. Each time he achieved a result; but it was only temporary. What didn’t occur to Bill until that day in my office was that Jack didn’t need to be motivated. He liked being part of the team and enjoyed taking on the difficult challenges.

So often, it’s easier for a leader to attempt a behavior change, rather than drill down to the real issue that’s causing the problem. Remember that motivation is internal to each person, caused by some need. People will strive to achieve that motivation. As leaders you may be able to change behavior, at least temporarily, but you can’t cause motivation. What you can do is help your team members meet that motivation and remove obstacles to achieving those needs. Jack had an obvious need to be successful, but the medication was an obstacle to achieving that need. Rather than just trying to changes Jack’s behavior, Bill needed to discover what was interfering with Jack’s motivation.

Sometimes that means removing obstacles to a team member’s motivation and sometimes it’s simply helping a team member see what the obstacle is so they can address it. To do that leaders must understand what their team members need. In Jack’s case, he was motivated by a need to be considered a valuable part of the team and to have challenging work.

He was unable to meet that need because of a medical issue which was fairly easily resolved. Unfortunately, many leaders try to rely on behavior change instead of learning what motivates their team members and then removing the obstacles to achieving that motivation.

Do you rely on behavior change, or are do you strive to help your team achieve their motivation?



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