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It has been a long time since Angie shared with you her readings, her adventures and her thoughts. Here is what she has been reading lately. The below is taken from the book “Coaching for Performance, GROWing people, Performance and Purpose,” by John Whitmore (London: Nicholas Brealey Publishing, 3rd edition, 2003).


The carrot and the stick are pervasive and persuasive motivators. But if you treat people like donkeys, they will perform like donkeys.

The secret of motivation is the holy grail that every business leader would dearly love to find. The carrot and stick, the symbolic external motivators, are becoming less and less effective. Few managers doubt that self-motivation would be better, but forcing someone to motivate themselves is a contradiction in terms. Self-motivation dwells within the mind of each individual, out of reach of even the chiefest of executives. We know that the mind is key, but where is the key to the mind? Motivation would also appear to be easier to come by in sport than it is in business, although many sports people and their coaches are also seeking more of it. What, if anything, can we learn from sport?”

Would we all want to be motivated at work and in life? Angie heard herself thinking. Don’t we all want to give the best we can anywhere we can? Maybe not all of us, she found herself arguing. But we want to do something, we want to live and to let others live. We want to be happy, we want to be noticed, we want to leave something behind, we want to have a purpose…. a life meaning… She returned to her book and kept reading:

“The majority of sports involve the body and mind in a skill that demands balance, timing, fluidity, extension, exertion and strength in different combinations. The closer we come to using our body to the fullness of its unique potential, the more pleasure we experience from the sensations generated. Sport therefore is inherently enjoyable to the extent of being somewhat addictive; mental or physical work is far less so, at least for the majority of people. Clearly, sport has a motivational advantage here. There are other factors too.

The external rewards from sport are more immediate, more glamorous and, at the top, often richer in fortune and in fame. More importantly, however, sports performances, at all levels, ultimately are exclusively in the hands of the performers (total responsibility). Added to that, the choice to take up sport, any sport, in the first place is often driven by a desire for self-worth and identity. This constitutes a large measure of self-motivation, and now we have all the winning ingredients.

Because there is limited inherent enjoyment at work, at least for those who do not experience the responsibility advantage of working for themselves, employers have had to rely on external motivators. We all need money. That money motivates is not in question, but if it comes in the form of minimal increases, toughly negotiated and reluctantly given, it motivates minimally.”

God knows, how much it was difficult to get any kind of renumeration in that office she was in. God alone knows, how minimal – if any- any salary increase was in that place….

Carrot and Stick

“Ever since work began, people have resorted to a combination of threat and reward to get other people to do what they want. If we go far enough back in history to the time of slavery, it was all stick and no carrot. As time went on carrots were introduced in the hope that people would perform better, and they did, by a little for a while. So next we tried washing the carrots, cooking them and providing bigger ones too, and we tried padding the stick or even hiding it, pretending we didn’t have one, until we needed it once more. Again performance improved – a little.

At present we are faced with economic constraints on pay increases and there are ever fewer opportunities for promotion. We are desperate for higher performance and we are running out of carrots. The stick is increasingly being seen as politically incorrect. So the motivation system is failing us, but not a moment too soon, and besides it never worked that well anyway. People at work by and large do not perform up to their potential, as a glance at how well they can perform in a real emergency readily shows.

The carrot and stick analogy originates from donkey motivation. In my memory the performance of donkeys is hardly inspiring. I hope I am not doing donkeys an injustice if I say that in fact they will do as little as they can get away with. If we treat people like donkeys, they will perform like donkeys. We must fundamentally change our ideas about motivation. If people are really going to perform, they must be self-motivated.

          Research has consistently shown that both job security and the quality of life in the workplace have a higher priority for a considerable proportion of people. When either or both of these internal motivators are absent, money, the most obvious external motivator, takes on a greater significance because “it’s the only thing we can get here, so we’ll fight for every penny we can get.” However, if money is perceived, given and received as a measure of self-worth, there is a fairly logical explanation for its higher significance.

Motivation and Maslow

In the 1950s an American psychologist, Abraham Maslow, broke the mold of delving into pathology to try to understand human nature. Instead, he studied mature, complete, successful and fulfilled people, and concluded that we could all be that way. In fact, he asserted that this was the natural human state. All we had to do, in his opinion, was to overcome our inner blocks to our development and maturity. Maslow was the father of the more optimistic wave of psychological thinking that is still in the process of displacing behaviorism as the favored model of humans. Psychological optimism is essential if we are fully to embrace coaching as the management style of the future.

      Maslow is best known in business circles for his hierarchy of human needs. This model suggests that the most basic need is for food and water, and that we will care for little else (except possibly a mobile phone!) until that

Maslow's hierarchy of needs, from the book "Coaching for Performance" by John Whitmore.

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, from the book “Coaching for Performance, GROWING People, Performance and Purpose” by John Whitmore.

need is met. Once we have secured a supply of food and water, we begin to concern ourselves with items such as shelter, clothing and safety. Again, when we have these, at least in part, we begin to focus on our social needs, as Maslow described it the need to belong to a grouping. These needs are met in part by our family, but later we also meet them by joining clubs and associations.

           Next we seek to satisfy our desire for the esteem of others, by display and by competing with them for power, victory or recognition. This extroverting need is eventually displaced by a subtler esteem need, the need for self-esteem. Here we demand higher standards of ourselves, and look to our own criteria by which we measure ourselves, rather than to how others see us.

           Maslow’s highest state was the self-actualizing person who emerges when both the esteem needs are satisfied and the individual is no longer driven by the need to prove themselves, either to themselves or to anyone else. He called this self-actualizing because self-actualized would have implied that we could really arrive there, whereas he saw it as a never-ending journey. The need associated with self-actualizers is the need for meaning and purpose in their lives. They want their work, their activities and their existence to have some value, to be a contribution to others.


Motivation at work

How does all this relate to motivation? People will seek to engage in those activities that help them to meet their needs. They are likely to be only partially conscious of this process, because work has naturally developed in ways that do help to meet those needs. However, the more our motivation systems are geared to the levels of needs of those we wish to motivate, the happier everyone is going to be.

Work does meet people’s primary needs by giving them an income with which they can feed, water and clothe their families and pay their housing costs. Tied housing in the past and the staff canteen also help to take care of those needs. Work brings people together into a work community. Furthermore, work offers promotion, prestige, pay grades and even a company car in which to solicit the esteem of others. The normal motivator used in work, rewards in various currencies, goes some of the way to meeting the survival needs, the belonging needs and even the lower of the two esteem needs. Very clever so far.

A glance into history will reveal that a few decades ago there was a far greater emphasis on tied housing and work social and sports clubs than there is today, and far less on promotion and prestige. In other words, society today is collectively seeking need satisfaction slightly higher up the hierarchy. Reward systems are beginning to reflect the changes at that level.

The next need toward which a large segment of modern society is beginning to move is that for self-esteem. Traditional business and management methods are very poorly equipped to meet that need. In fact, they fail to do so principally because the very nature of self-esteem runs counter to them.

From time to time economic downturns, downsizing, job insecurity, minimal pay increases and declining house prices lead large numbers of workers to go back down the hierarchy. When this occurs, the spectrum of predominant needs becomes broader. Worse still, many businesses can no longer easily supply those things that attract the esteem of others, such as promotion and company cars. So how will businesses motivate their people? They must continue to meet the basic needs while making the fundamental changes necessary to enable them to meet employees’ emerging higher needs.”

(to be continued)

Thank you for reading.