The question of how to motivate others is one that every manager comes to at some point. Often it’s when many ‘tried and tested’ techniques, such as money, incentives, praise, resources etc just haven’t worked. In terms of what might actually be effective it’s always worth exploring new ideas and one of those potentially comes from celebrated big brain Albert Einstein. He is quoted as once saying that if he had one hour to save the world, he would spend 55 minutes defining the problem and only 5 minutes finding the solution. So does this idea hold the answer to motivating other people?
Exploring Einstein’s idea
Einstein’s approach would shift the focus when it comes to motivating people. Instead of looking at how to do this you would ideally spend the bulk of your time on any problems that might be preventing motivation instead. First, define what motivation means to you – if you’re thinking about your own this could be the energy to take action but when it comes to other people’s is it more like a willingness to work to the criteria of others? It’s also worth looking at the impetus in an individual situation, as motivation can drive people to move away from an uncomfortable situation or towards a better one. When the goal is achieved in either of these the motivation will often disappear.
Away or towards?
When you’re motivating people it’s important to work out whether you’re intending to use the ‘away’ method or the ‘towards’ method. If you’re using the wrong one that could be the problem you need to spend time on. Many managers opt for ‘away’ when it comes to getting staff to do what they want. However, because we often use KPIs and SMART goals to generate more motivation many managers believe that they are in the ‘towards’ mode. There is no one single answer for this – whether a goal has the impact of being ‘away’ or ‘towards’ will depend on the individual and their circumstances, as well as how it is phrased. That’s why motivating people requires individual attention if you really want to get it right.
It’s not about you
In some management situations any movement at all – whether away or towards – will be welcomed. However, you’re going to be at your most effective if you’re delivering motivation in a way that moves the person you’re working with in the way that you want them to move. So, it’s not about you – not what would motivate you to achieve the goal that you’re setting with that person – but taking the time to understand them. Are they more likely to be motivated by the idea of missing out on opportunities, ideas, promotions, inclusion in projects (the ‘away’ motivators) or language that is framed in the reverse e.g. gaining a promotion, reward or being included on a team (the ‘towards’ language).
If you’ve been struggling to motivate effectively then Einstein’s idea of focusing more on the problem could provide a way forward. The issue might be something as simple as the wrong type of motivator being used. Swap that and you could change everything.