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To get success, you’ve got to want it

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in Leaders & Managers,People Management

by Mike Clark-Madison

We talk a lot about motivation, in a lot of different contexts--from employees' long-term career goals, to the challenges facing female talent, to managing younger workers, to making the best new hire. And throughout all these different discussions you can hear a common theme: To get success, you've got to want it.

In other words, the only real way to motivate people is to make them want to do a job and do their best. But "make" is the wrong word here, because when it comes down to it, we as managers can't really "make" people motivated to succeed. We can use our power and ability to establish the conditions that help people motivate themselves.

One of my favorite workplace bloggers, "Chief Happiness Officer" Alex Kjerulf (at, posted a while back about "why 'motivation by pizza' doesn't work." Extrinsic motivation--whether punishment or reward--isn't sustainable, delivers diminishing returns, and reduces employees' desire to achieve on their own, he says. (The "pizza" part refers to a summer reading program where kids could earn pizza for checking out more library books. When the pizza went away, so did the reading habit.)

And intrinsic negative motivation--or, put more simply, fear--doesn't work very well either long-term. "Motivation based on avoiding something is simply not as effective as motivation based on achieving something," Kjerulf says. That leaves only intrinsic positive motivation, where your job as boss is basically to do everything you can to make people's work its own reward.

That doesn't mean you should just abandon your rewards and punishments and power to "make" people work. These are tools you use to establish an effective, efficient and productive work culture, and if you don't have that, your self-motivated employees will find themselves stuck in the mud. But they are tools, not ends in themselves. True motivation comes from supporting your employees' innate desire to achieve.



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