When we ask “why” in relation to people’s behaviors, we are seeking information into what motivates them. Why do people behave the way they do? Why are some people more successful at certain activities than others?
There are so many “why” questions when it comes to understanding people and their behaviors that we have focused entire fields within psychology on answering them. Consistent academic effort is applied to understanding what motivates people into action, from infancy to adulthood.
When it comes to motivation at work, we can draw a wealth of information from psychology. Understanding and identifying what drives our employees can help us in:
- Understanding individual behavior
- Putting people in the right roles
- Identifying high potential achievers
- Managing interpersonal relationships
- Understanding group behavior
- Designing assignments and enrichment programs tailored to unique individual needs, and
- Troubleshooting under-performing teams
The practice of putting motivational theory to work, at work, is called effectance motivation.
Almost every facet of leadership is affected by your understanding of what motivates your team, so let’s break down effectance theory so that you can hack your team’s inspiration, and motivate them to higher performance levels.
Every individual has basic needs that need to be met before they can accomplish greater things
Everyone who passed Psych 101 has heard of the ever-popular Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. The popularity of Abraham Maslow’s 1943 “Theory of Human Motivation” endures not only because it gives us a digestible visual hierarchy of what is necessary for healthy human development, but because through that hierarchy, we understand that there are distinct levels to human motivation that need to be reached in order to move up the pyramid.
You are simply not going to be able to motivate an employee to the top of the hierarchy if they do not feel safe, or valued, because their motivations will be to find safety and security, or to display their place and value within your team.
People are motivated to affect their environment through their own efforts
This is the core tenet of effectance motivation.
Your team members are inherently stimulated by affecting their environment. When an individual acts upon their environment, through positive or negative actions, they are confirming to themselves their own existence.
Okay. That’s a bit heavy, and it may seem completely out there, but it really isn’t. On a physiological level, people are stimulated mentally, physically, and emotionally when they can interact with and affect the world around them. This interaction and the resulting stimulation tells the mind “you are here.” The ability to affect yourself, others, or the world around you provide cognitive affirmations to your existence and enables motivation through effectance.
As a result, when motivated by their impact on the environment around them, positive mental and emotional feedback confirms your employees’ value and worth, and generates feelings of pride, satisfaction, competency and self-esteem. These in turn create a positive feedback loop to reinforce those warm-fuzzy feelings with their impacting behaviors.
There are a few roadblocks on the path to effectance
Mental, emotional and physical obstacles can stand in the way of your team member (or you) and their ability to affect their environment, and reap the benefits of effectance.
Negativity, perfectionism, emotional defense mechanisms, as well as physical issues, can stand in the way of your employees’ motivation. So often individuals will shelter themselves from possible negative outcomes by inaction. Fear and shyness can drive a wedge between your employee and their success.
Understanding these obstacles is key to overcoming them. Be mindful of your employees’ needs and concerns, and leverage the motivations and energy your struggling employee is bringing to the table to achieve your goals.
Another impediment to motivation is gravity. I’m not talking about Newton, or a John Mayer song, but metaphorical gravity. Because of gravity, everything we do takes effort. It takes effort to affect the environment around you, we call this “The Principle of Least Effort.” Unlike laziness, gravity is not a conscious decision, and when faced with multiple options people will naturally choose the path of least resistance. The lesser the effort, the lesser the effect.
Identifying obstacles and opportunities on the path to motivating your team to success is half the battle. Simply understanding human motivation and its pitfalls can help improve your leadership methodology.
Watch a 1-minute preview of “Effectance Motivation Fundamentals” from The BizLibrary Collection here: