The Fourth Motivation

It can be tricky to motivate people, whether you’re trying to get employees to bring their “A Game,” or a potential client to sign on the dotted line. You spend hours trying to figure out what someone needs in order to take action, only to find out that people are more motivated by what they want than what they need. 

Conventional wisdom says, don’t offer them their deep desire, offer them what they think will get them their deep desire. We marketers are cynical. We’ve identified three, rather carnal, motivations. 

  • Emotional Security (Sex)
  • Financial Security (Money)
  • Time Freedom (Rock & Roll)

If we don’t intuit the particular desire that’s going unmet we probably can’t motivate the person. 

There is a fourth motivation. In his blog, author John Garfield points out that we all have a deep desire to contribute to something uniquely valuable. We desire significance. 

When an employee aligns with the core purpose of an organization they won’t need too much external push to contribute their effort to the cause. Then again, if they haven’t identified what it is about themselves they believe is uniquely valuable, they may struggle to feel significant. 

It’s possible to get all the right people on your bus, but have them all in the wrong seats. 

Likewise, customers are looking for your help to grow their unique value, or find a more fulfilling place to apply it. This doesn’t mean they’ve discovered what it is about them they wish to contribute. 

Even people with good self esteem can struggle to identify what they bring to the table at work or at home. You can like yourself and still feel powerless to impact your world. 

So how does all this help us build a good team, or retain good employees or make sales? 

To start, let’s recognize that the industrial revolution started 300 years ago. Employers can stop acting like people are interchangeable widgets. Industry has long benefitted from the initiating forces of national tragedy. Having a pool of employees who had endured war (WWI/WWII/Vietnam/Etc) made companies that didn’t have to address the fourth desire. (Apparently getting shot at helps people clarify their self awareness.)

Millennials, on the other hand, are more like frogs in hot water, where the temperature was raised a degree at a time. They long to jump out, but don’t know what will happen if they do. 

Companies need to clearly articulate what they’re trying to do, and it needs to be more benevolent than just making money. Leaders will need to praise employees for their unique contribution. Is it hard to tell someone the way they hand out coffee or wash a car is uniquely valuable, absolutely. But if we actually love and respect people it’s possible to reinforce what someone secretly likes about themselves. Above all, tell them they have what it takes. 

The same goes for customers. For too long we’ve tried to sell people a way to cover up their inadequacies. Instead of reinforcing what they dislike about themselves, it’s time to facilitate their ability to display brilliance. 

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