Improve Commitment by Understanding the Personal Nature of Motivation

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Jun 12, 2014

Note: This is the sixth article in a series on decreasing turnover and increasing profits. In the previous articles Terry discussed turnover  (High Turnover Is NOT Just Part of the Business), who to hire (What It Takes to Attract and Hire Recruiting Winners), setting expectations,  training (Your Onboarding Should Not Be Like A Box of Chocolates), standards (When You Set Standards and Manage to Them, Everyone Knows Where They Stand), and performance based training (Performance Base Your Training For Early Success).


Decreasing turnover and increasing profits are a result of attracting, hiring, training, and retaining a productive staff that can effectively work together. However, an important factor that contributes to this is your understanding of the nature of personal motivation. This understanding is critical to achieving a realistic picture of your personal operating/management style, and it is equally important in determining “who” to hire, and “how” to train and manage them once they are on board with your firm.

Personal motivation is just that, it is personal. Therefore, in order to understand it, you must understand the person. As a starting point consider the findings of a longitudinal study by the National Science Foundation. This study concluded that:

The key to having employees who are both satisfied and productive is motivation, that is, arousing and maintaining the will to work effectively, having employees who are effective not because they are coerced but because they are committed.

Not only does this study underscore the importance individual commitment plays in personal motivation, likewise, my work with thousands of consultants over the last 30 years draws the same conclusion. This is particularly true for consistent top producers.

Short-term motivation (and therefore improved performance) can be generated through contests, awards, and incentives. However, in most instances these short-term performance improvements do not last because they typically fail to address the issue of long-term commitment. Consequently, if your understanding of personal motivation is limited to offering rewards and incentives, long-term performance improvement may be difficult to achieve.

Conversely, interfacing with your staff on a level that addresses their individual commitment positions you to effectively create an environment in which personal motivation can take hold. Therefore, the key is identifying that which fosters commitment – the deep-seated commitment that motivates an individual to achieve regardless of the difficultly.

Motivation Drivers

True commitment, the commitment that serves as a basis for personal motivation, stems from one or more of the following sources.

1. Want or Desire

“Want power” develops will power, and will power can generate commitment. Incentives and rewards can also generate want power; however they rarely generate the necessary will power to develop long-term commitment. For long-term commitment, the want or desire must be strong and consistent. This want or desire tends to be a mainstay of the person’s life and becomes obvious to the interviewer when questioning the candidate about their major life decisions

A word of caution is in order: In many cases, an individual who is only motivated through want or desire may cut corners to achieve their desired objective. Obviously, this could present problems in working with clients, candidates and other members of the team.

2. Fear of Failure

Psychologists have proven that an average person’s fear of loss is greater than their desire for gain. In the case of fear of failure, this can be manifested in one of two ways:

  • Either the individual avoids any situations in which failure is a possibility or;
  • When confronted with that type of situation, they commit themselves to a total and complete effort in order to avoid failure. In other words, they over-compensate.

Therefore, when interviewing, look beyond a record of success and determine whether or not the individual has really been tested. Have they been successful because they have concentrated on not getting involved in situations where failure was a possibility, or have they been successful because they have responded positively to a challenge by giving a full measure of their effort and resource? The answer to that question will go a long way in determining the individual’s source of motivation.

3. Self-Validation

To one degree or another, everyone is seeking validation of their worth as a person. The true externalist seeks it from others. They are looking for praise and approval, and if they do not receive it, they have a tendency to position themselves as victims (it is never their fault).

On the other hand, the true internalist measures their worth or value in relationship to their internal standards, which generally tend to be very high. Because of these high standards, the internalist is rarely comfortable in an environment where performance does not meet their internal standards. Their strong personal motivation stems from an absolute commitment to reach or surpass these ever-rising standards.

A Combination of All Three

Most consistently successful performers in our industry derive their motivation from a combination of all three of these sources. However, fear of failure and self-validation tend to prevail. Although their want or desire for the finer things in life appears to be dominant, it may be nothing more than an outward manifestation of the true source(s) of their motivation.

Understanding the nature of personal motivation begins by understanding that each of us is called to step forward and contribute, to make a difference, to have our lives stand for something positive and good.

However, many of us do not answer the call. Those who do, commit themselves to achievement and results, not rationalization and excuses. They are motivated by self-validation, a need to measure up to their internal standards, and make a continuous and valuable contribution to the world around them. In most cases, this need for self-validation is coupled with an almost equal fear of failure, of not measuring up, of not contributing. Additionally, as these individuals strive to achieve, to “be all that they can be,” they begin to reap the rewards of success, prestige, recognition, lifestyle and most importantly, a deep feeling of satisfaction that only comes from self-validation. This reinforces their commitment, strengthening their motivation, resulting in further contributions and additional success.

These individuals are living testimonials to the power of personal motivation.

Through our selection process we need to identify individuals who have the capability to be successful in this business. (See previous articles in this series.) However, apart from all the other factors, we must identify the strength and source of the individual’s true motivation. Only by understanding the nature of an individual’s personal motivation can we adjust our training approach and management style to properly interface with them on a daily basis. Individuals with commitment, with strong personal motivations, require and expect from us this reciprocity.

As always, if you have questions or comments about this article or wish to receive my input on any other topic related to this business, just let me know. Your calls and e-mails are most welcome.