What Does Current Research Tell Us?
As leaders, whether in the for-profit or non-profit world, we have responsibilities for catalyzing and cultivating a movement of people toward providing services, products, and outcomes that help both the organization and the customers/clients flourish and transform. A significant part of this endeavor is about motivating and mobilizing people and teams - galvanizing and empowering them to achieve objectives, goals, and milestones.
It is becoming all the more familiar to hear or read about, with growing regularity, that companies and churches are experiencing low levels of employee engagement and satisfaction. It’s like the wind has been taken out of people’s sails, where they simply float along doing the minimal work necessary and collecting a paycheck. Is the cause for this a lack of motivation somewhere in the mix? Are team members not self-motivated due to burnout or ‘bore-out,’ or is the issue with leaders not motivating their staff well, or a combination of both?
As a leader in the church space for over 30 years, I’ve always been interested in what makes people do things (or not do them) and what drives their behaviors and actions - whether for good or ill. Some great resources have come out over the past decade or more that have shown how motivation works, backed by significant research, that I have valued - a couple of noble mentions: Switch by Dan and Chip Heath (2010) and Drive by Daniel Pink (2011). Recently, I have been working my way through Why Motivating People Doesn’t Work … and What Does (Second Edition, 2023) by Susan Fowler. This book is a game changer. Here’s a thought-provoking quote from Fowler: “The motivation dilemma is that you are being held accountable for something you cannot do: motivate people.” As leaders, we cannot motivate people - let that sink in for a moment or two.
What can we do to help mobilize our team? It’s not that we do not have a role to play in motivation. We certainly do! Our function is to create an environment where core psychological needs can be met, helping people self-regulate, manage, and fuel their motivation. Fowler states that “people are already motivated … traditional motivation approaches ask if people are motivated or not. But that’s the wrong question. The question isn’t even what motivates people … the question is why.” And the answer to that question “lies at the heart of motivation science and the validation of three psychological needs—choice, connection, and competence. Regardless of gender, race, culture, or generation, the real story behind motivation is as simple and complex as whether your psychological needs are fulfilled.”
Traditionally known as ARC, every human being has three innate, universal needs: Autonomy (choice), Relatedness (connection), and Competence. When these needs are met, people experience optimal motivation, resulting in positive energy, well-being, and vitality.
As leaders, we can take some steps to help people move forward.
Encourage Choice: People prefer to want to than to have to, and they value having a healthy degree of control and autonomy - to choose within boundaries. As you work with team members through a decision-making process, give them the freedom to consider options around the what, where, when, who, and how of achieving outcomes. When goals and timelines are determined, ensure people understand and affirm their value and importance. This form of empowerment invites greater engagement and ownership, along with more productive achievements on the part of staff. Thwarting or restricting choice will always lead to frustration, indifference, and defeat.
It’s important to note that attempts to motivate people with extrinsic things like money and rewards, in the end, do not work. Fowler writes: In thousands of experiments worldwide, the results are the same: even though people will take the money or rewards you offer, the only correlation between those incentives and performance is a negative one. In other words, external rewards produce a disturbing undermining effect on the energy, vitality, and sense of positive well-being people need to achieve goals, attain excellence, and sustain effort. Pink in Drive notes that the carrot and sticks approach has “seven deadly flaws”:
a) They can extinguish intrinsic motivation.
b) They can diminish performance.
c) They can crush creativity.
d) They can crowd out good behavior.
e) They can encourage cheating, shortcuts, and unethical behavior.
f) They can become addictive.
g) They can foster short-term thinking.
(P.S. This is no reason not to compensate people generously; always pay people well!)
Develop and Deepen Connection: We are wired to belong; in this context, we are nurtured and cultivate healthy self-esteem. It’s a journey from acceptance to care, sharing, and feeling respected. When people are valued, validated, and given a voice in the context of community, they are motivated to take the hill. They are much more open to receiving feedback and being held accountable. To feel like you are a part of something more significant than yourself is empowering and encouraging. If feelings are ignored, and there is a lack of empathy and compassion, people will not experience the motivation and team spirit essential to succeeding as an organization. Aligning and integrating personal values with organizational ones will be important here. Any dissonance between the two will create tension and conflict, impeding the flow of a united team moving forward.
Strengthen Competence: People are created for mastery; they want to develop their skills and learn to manage everyday situations more effectively. As leaders, we must help close gaps between what we ask people to do or solve and the skills required to accomplish these tasks or projects by providing ongoing training. Critical to this effort is to make sure we are tapping into people’s unique gifts, abilities, and passions. I have heard that leaders need to ask themselves, “What do I want for my people?” Instead of “What do I want from my people?” Connecting team members' assets and capabilities to the larger purpose and mission of the organization will catalyze their desires to grow in their competencies. As part of your evaluation process with team members, be sure to inquire about what they are learning and where they have experienced growth and have been stretched. Don’t just focus on quantitative metrics and outcomes.
You may have heard of the phrase, “It’s not personal; it’s just business.”
As leaders, we must recognize that our business is always personal and relational. It’s never just business. We can't create a dichotomy between business and personal if we want to lead our people well and help mobilize them toward more significant growth and accomplishment. Here at Chemistry Staffing, we realize that church leadership and ministry are never just business; it’s about helping people become awakened to their innate desires to make a difference in our world, using their gifts, talents, and passions in partnership with others who share that same mission.
If we can be of any encouragement and support to you and your team, please get in touch with me; I would love to connect and have a conversation!