The sun was shining, the view of the harbour was stunning, I was excited about the material I was about to deliver, and by the first morning break of a two-day project-management course it had already become a fiasco. The participants; senior IT managers in an insurance company; were continually objecting about trivialities. They were doing all they could to let me know they didn’t want to be there. It was 1993, and while project management is now a basic discipline in IT, it was a new idea then to these people.
I’d like to be able to tell you how skilfully I turned it around, but I can’t. The whole thing went badly, from beginning to end.
You could write a whole case study in the things I did wrong. I didn’t ensure that the Head of IT had let these people know that he wanted them to use these techniques. I didn’t meet with the participants ahead of time, to understand their world better. I didn’t approach the material in terms of “techniques others are finding useful, that you may as well”. I didn’t coach them through their objections subtly enough. Leaving that aside, however, the underlying problem was well summed up by a participant whom I overheard at the break: “John is trying to get us to work in a particular way; but that’s not the way we want to work”.
As I was beating myself up afterwards over all of the things I did wrong, I began to wish that the organisation was a more disciplined one, so that we could simply force compliance. The more I thought about that, the more I realised that forcing compliance would have caused a bigger set of problems. We would have had to force people to stop enjoying their work. Their motivation would have collapsed, and their stress would have risen. Some of them would have left. The cost would have been more than the IT function could have carried.
It was when I understood this that I had my flash of the blindingly obvious: people enjoy different things, and just because an organisation wants to do things differently, that doesn’t suddenly make people want to work differently. Not a big leap, you might think, but the implications are revolutionary. It means that the dominant model for getting things done differently in an organisation is flawed.
The dominant, behaviourist model goes like this:
- phase 1: define the behaviour you want;
- phase 2: pull levers (a training course; an incentive program; a road show; a performance-management system) to get the behavioural change you want; then
- phase 3: watch as everyone enthusiastically falls into line behind the new approach. Or not.
This mechanistic, de-humanised approach rarely delivers all of the expected benefits in my experience, firstly because people’s motivation is not malleable, and secondly because motivation matters.
Motivation matters in any job where there are skills shortages, because if you want to attract and hold talented people, you need them find their work enjoyable. Motivation matters in sales, because people who feel positive sell better. Motivation matters in management, because the attitude of the leader impacts on everyone. Motivation matters in customer service, because customers want to be served by people who enjoy serving. Motivation matters in industrialised environments, because demotivated people cause trouble. Motivation matters where innovation matters, because you need to really care to put yourself out enough to push a new idea. Motivation matters in any job where retention is an issue. Motivation matters in any job where trying harder delivers better outcomes.
This explains why mechanistic managerial approaches disappoint both their perpetrators and their victims. It explains why a “fit in or f….. off” culture fails.
This flash of insight fortuitously coincided with the discovery of a story-and conversation-based approach to understanding, in depth, what motivates an individual, and that can describe a job in motivational terms. I call this the “Individual Motivational Profile” or “IMP”. People talk about between five and nine things they have enjoyed doing in their lives, in a way that reveals a consistent motivational pattern that links the stories. The information that this provides makes it practical to work with what people naturally want, rather than having to work against it. It allows for a more humanised, and therefore more realistic, way of functioning. It allows for a workplace revolution.
A colleague, Sylvie Vanasse, helped me to develop it further and inspired me to make this available as the equivant of open-source technology. This means first, that you are able to use it for free. It also means that we are hoping for your ideas to develop it further. We believe that, while this approach has had 19 years of development, and delivers amazing outcomes, there is a lot of scope to make it even better.
The details, together with lots of case studies, can be found at www.individualmotivationalprofile.com . We hope that using it makes your workplace better; and that it has a positive impact on your whole life.
Note from Learning Cafe Producer – Individual Motivational Profile is the one of the first “open source” or “creative common” initiative that Learning Cafe will support. We look forward to supporting many such projects. A list of such projects and initiatives can be found under Resources. Jeevan Joshi
Individual Motivational Profile – For all to use and needing your help