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March 6, 2012
The 'M' In Team: Motivation
 
When you look around at your team, particularly at people’s level of drive and motivation, what do you see?
 
Perhaps you have a handful of people who seem to be intrinsically driven, who always go above and beyond, will always stay late, and who will run 20 blocks up Park Avenue with a portfolio in a hailstorm. Let’s call these the Überachievers.
 
Then you have those who used to fall into this category. These Fall Off Überachievers used to work their tails off, repeatedly, and then this gumption died off. 
 
Then you have a few other categories: the Strategists, who deliberately align their effort, or the “smarter not harder crowd.” You’ll find these folks hanging around the senior leaders and volunteering for the high-profile new business pitches. 
 
Finally, you have those who, to others, appear not really to care. Let’s call these the Apparent Apathetics.
 
So what explains the behavior of each of these groups?
 
Do your team members just act because they are intrinsically driven or because of the carrot?  
 
Do you train for a marathon and drink a morning wheatgrass for six months because it’s fun? Absolutely not.   
 
You do it for a few reasons:
 
–You care about the outcome,
–You think the outcome is achievable and not totally impossible, and
­–If you complete it, there’s something in it for you. 
 
Our friend Victor Vroom1, (not the inventor of the vacuum cleaner), said that a person’s level of motivation is equal to the anticipated outcome2. Translation: If you think you’ll lose 10 pounds by getting up every morning and running a mile (and that’s important to you), you’ll do it. If you don’t care about it, you’ll put in less effort.
 
Often times, the Überachievers have a carrot in striking distance — a raise, a promotion, a rotation to another account, more responsibility, or all of the above. They care deeply about this, they know it’s achievable, and boy, there is something in it for them.
 
In the case of the Fall Off Überachievers, likely their anticipated reward wasn’t realized.  If Sally thought she was going to get a raise and promotion after three years of slaving away and it didn’t happen, she’s probably going to stop putting in the same level effort.  Wouldn’t you? 
 
So how are the Strategists different than the Überachievers? It’s the level of effort exerted and where it’s exerted. The “Übers” exert energy everywhere because they care about the outcome of almost everything, whereas the “strategists” are targeted where they choose to focus. The outcome, often about status, is more ambiguous and far off in the distance is being controlled by someone else, in this case, a senior leader. 
 
Finally, the Apparent Apathetics likely do care. What might actually be happening is that the “carrot” may not be appealing (e.g., they’d prefer a day off vs. working on a new business pitch) or they may not believe the outcome can be achieved right now (e.g., a promotion). If the outcome seems fairly unattainable or they don’t have skin in the game, their level of effort will reflect it. 
 
As a manager, how do you ensure you’ve got a motivated, high-performing team in place in which you have a lot of people interested in performing, staying late when needed, and working on pitches (including the non-high profile ones)?
 
1. Help them to care: Work with each individual to develop goals, tied to individual incentives, that matter to them so that they care about the outcome. In a perfect world the goals should be tied to agency, team, and then individual goals, but work within your performance review system and readjust as needed.
 
2. Help them to achieve: By developing team goals and supporting incentives (that the team agrees on), the team will collectively coach and mentor one another as they collectively cross the finish line. Individually, the team members will become stronger as their development areas and gaps are addressed.
 
3. Ensure it’s fair: Take a look across the team and ensure that the incentive structure and process is transparent and fair. Ultimately, you want your team members to see the clear connection between performance and reward and don’t want to feel if things are slanted unfairly. Equity is a huge part of employee engagement, and if someone isn’t feeling as if treatment on the team is fair, this could be why you’re seeing a reduction in level of effort.  
 
The great news is that, by personalizing incentives, adding clarity to the process, and giving team members the support and confidence to achieve, you’ll be able to understand what’s going on and soon have a team of Super Überachievers. 
 
Notes:
  1. Dr. Victor Vroom is a business school professor at the Yale School of Management.  His primary research has been on the expectancy theory of motivation, explaining why individuals choose certain courses of actions in organizations.
  2. Expectancy theory of motivation was proposed by Victor Vroom in 1964, and proposes that a person's behavior occurs because of expectations as to the outcomes of that behavior. 
The views expressed are the sole views of Robyn Lahlein and do not represent those of any current or former organizations or clients.

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Robyn Lahlein is a Talent Development and Organizational Strategy consultant who has worked internally and externally for clients and agencies within the advertising, marketing, media and financial services sectors for the past 10 years. She holds her Masters in Organizational Psychology from Columbia University and is a business contributor to TheDailyBeast.com. The views expressed are the sole views of Robyn Lahlein and do not represent those of any current or former organizations or clients.

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