The Motivation Equation

Motivation is like a chain – only as strong as its weakest link. Here’s my top five tips for motivating yourself and others

Motivation is a chain of unconscious questions or judgements that people make about things and is only as strong as its weakest link. Here’s my shorthand for the motivation equation, followed by a look at the questions or judgements that people make, along with my top tips for boosting personal motivation and leading others.

Motivation = Self-Belief x Task-Relevance x Outcome-Value

Self-Belief = “Can I do this task well?”
In my experience, personal self-belief is the single biggest factor in motivation and often overlooked by businesses. I’ve seen people move mountains with very little stake in the outcome, just for the sheer joy of exercising their personal empowerment.

Tip 1: Always start here.

Tip 2: When you need to motivate someone who is lacking in self-belief, remember Roosevelt’s saying: “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.” There is always something that somebody can do. Great leaders take the time and insight to find out what that is.

Task-Relevance = “If I do this task well, will it lead to the required outcome?”
People come undone at this link for two reasons. One: they only have one strategy, one way of doing things, and they always apply that regardless of relevance. Or two: they get rabbit-in-the-headlights syndrome trying to find the ‘right’ or ‘best’ thing to do.

Tip 3: Leaders need to encourage experimentation and the principle of failing forwards. Help your people to be more like scientists, engineers or artists: think of something to do that might lead to the required outcome, try it, evaluate its success, learn from it.

Outcome-Value = “How much do I personally want that outcome?”
This is the link where leaders most often seem to come undone, because they make assumptions about what’s important to others, based on what they themselves would want. By knowing what is important to individuals it becomes easier to frame the outcome, emphasising the elements which do match what is important to other people.

Tip 4:  For people who like achievement, emphasise the positive aspects of the outcome. For people who like to avoid problems, emphasise how this outcome will avoid something bad. If you’re talking to a group of people, mention both!

People are generally not that good at imagining forward to what things will be like when an outcome is actually achieved. Often, it seems to me, because they are focussed on the first two links in the motivation chain. I don’t think people actually do very much evaluating of what they really want or how things will be after something is achieved.

Tip 5: Good leaders paint a picture of how things will be once an outcome is achieved. They give people a feel for both the positive aspects and the problems-avoided by it (see Tip 4). They talk about what people will see and hear on the outside (the evidence) and how people might feel inside (the intrinsic reward).


Great One-on-One Meetings for Busy Managers