The headline may be a bold claim…but is it?

Our recent Insight event series invited a panel of three experts to discuss the topic of the key attributes of success in our people and the elements that create self-motivation and drive within individuals.

Featuring a psychologist, author and CEO (I know, it sounds like the start of a good joke), these industry leaders shared insights from their research and extensive experience. One of the key points raised was the notion that you can’t actually motivate your team, nor manufacture self-motivation and drive.

Stephen Kohl, Managing Director of GeneSys Australia, explained that motivation is what underlies the why in our work – i.e. why we do what we do. He said it is often more than financial and can relate to achievement, beliefs, opportunities to work with people and so on. Drawing from his wide-ranging research and assessment analysis, he said everyone is self-motivated in one way or another. The question is whether a person’s self-motivation is directed in favour of your organisation and objectives or not.

He said motivation was consistently one of the hardest areas to measure in a person. Stephen shared some of GeneSys’ research that ranked motivation (via ‘interests’) as being a low predictor of job performance and success. While psychometric tests certainly have value and play an important role, he said the top ranked predictors all related to intellectual capacity and ability. Stephen suggested that while the ‘why’ is important, without the ‘what’, ‘how’ and specific organisational context, you may not get success.

Dr Tim Baker, author of The End of the Performance Review and five other best-selling books, talked briefly about Dan Pink’s book Drive, which found that neither the carrot, nor the stick, created drive in people, with the exception of menial jobs. He talked about Pink’s three key areas that determined drive or self-motivation – the desire for autonomy; the opportunity for mastery; and a sense of purpose.

Tim said there were no real patterns to people with high drive – that factors such as culture, background, personality and so on did not predict drive. However, he said there were some characteristics common to people with high drive. These included clarity of purpose; the ability to say no, linked significantly to having that clear focus; often a reasonable degree of emotional intelligence; and the willingness to work on their strengths. In line with the idea that we cannot motivate our teams, Tim suggested the primary role of leadership is to create an environment where our people will choose to be motivated toward our common vision.

Gary Christian, CEO of QMI Solutions, first introduced the concept of leaders not being able to motivate their people, quoting sporting icon Wayne Bennett. He reinforced Stephen Kohl’s point that people have a wide range of drivers that lead to their self-motivation – be it status, income, ambition, flexibility, achievement, involvement, reward and more. With these being so inherently from within, he said it was something of a myth that leaders could externally ‘create’ it.

From a recruitment and performance management perspective, Gary said there was a need to balance things such as psychometric profiling and process with gut feel. However, leveraging more than three decades of his own leadership experience, at the stage where someone is part of your team, Gary’s central point was that you can’t know what motivates them if you don’t take the time to get to know your people. He said learning about your people is the best way a leader can understand and play to each person’s self-motivation to achieve collective results.

We’d value your feedback on what you think influences self-motivation and drive in people.