The Art of Influence: Skill vs. Motivation

By Jessica Wishart

dateWed, Aug 19, 2015 @ 09:00 AM

As part of my personal Keep Smart rhythm, I recently watched a few installments of a webinar series onMotivation influence and motivation (the Joseph Grenny Leadership Learning Series). Joseph Grenny interviewed experts in this field who shared insights and research on how to influence your team. 

One of the main points Grenny made in each of the webinars is that we have a bias toward assuming that people don’t do what they know they need to do because of lack of motivation rather than lack of skill. For example, we assume that people don’t quit smoking or our employees don’t follow our procedures because they don’t care when in reality they may lack some basic skills or tools. Grenny points out that to be successful at influencing your team, you have to be able to do both: motivate the team and give them skills to enable change. 

If you need an example to bring this to life, Vital Smarts created a video showing an experiment involving young children and marshmallows. The children were left in a room with some marshmallows, and they were told that if they waited 15 minutes to eat the marshmallows, they would get more marshmallows. In this scenario, very few of the children were able to wait; most ate the marshmallows almost immediately. However, when the children were given some basic instructions on how they might delay eating the marshmallows (sing a song, walk around the room, etc. to distract themselves), the majority of them were able to wait. So, the experimenter was far more successful in getting the desired behavior when he provided both motivation (in the form of more marshmallows) and some basic skills (by suggesting ways to distract and delay eating the marshmallows.) 

So, how does this apply to you as a business leader? If you are trying to influence your team to change or simply to produce the best possible results, you need to be able to both motivate them and coach them to develop their personal abilities. 

How to Increase Team’s Motivation:

Grenny interviewed Chester Elton and Adrian Gostick, authors of What Motivates Me: Put Your Passions to Work, on the topic of increasing motivation in your people. Here are some takeaways from their presentation: 

  • Having motivated employees is beneficial to everyone. They produce higher quality work, stay in their jobs longer, and are more productive. Plus, employees who report being happy at work are 150% more likely to have a happier life overall.
  • Each person on your team is driven by something different. To effectively motivate them, you must learn what makes them tick. Elton and Gostick’s book includes an assessment that will tell you the ranking of 23 different motivators for each person on your team. So, you’ll know who on your team is more likely to be motivated by things like creativity, empathy, prestige, money, recognition, teamwork, variety, etc. Depending on each person’s top motivators, Elton and Gostick also assign identities to your team. You can glean much about what drives your employees by knowing if they are Achievers, Builders, Caregivers, Reward Driven, or Thinkers.
  • In addition to learning what motivates individuals on your team, you need to look at the top motivators for your team as a whole to understand how to lead them effectively. If nobody on your team is motivated by friendship, then planning a social outing as a celebration for a job well done is probably not appropriate.
  • Once you collect some data (whether through formal assessment as these experts recommend or informally by having conversations with each of your direct reports to understand what motivates them), put that knowledge to use by helping your employees to sculpt their jobs into ones they’ll really love to get up and come to each morning. Great managers take down barriers to being successful by understanding what makes each person feel successful and finding ways to help them do more of those things each day. 

How to Coach Your Team to Build Personal Ability:

Grenny interviewed David Maxfield on the topic of helping people do what they can’t. Here are some key insights from his presentation:

  • Start with cultivating the right mindset. If your team believes that they need some innate talent to be able to do their jobs well, they will be more likely to give up. They need a “growth mindset” in which they believe that practicing and training can lead to exceptional performance in order to successfully gain the skill they need to do their jobs well.
  • Next, help your team members evaluate their skill level by finding choke points and unexpected obstacles. They can do a skill scan for a specific task (where’s the obstacle in mastering a particular element of their job?) or for a context (like their work environments) or for personal and interpersonal skills.
  • Once they find the places where their skills break down, you can help them with deliberately practicing the skill they need to be able to do their job effectively. Key elements of effective rehearsal include frequency of repetition, feedback, and practice that is mentally demanding enough to keep their interest and improve performance. If you can help your team get into a routine of regularly practicing the skills they need to develop, provide feedback, and help them stay accountable, you will go a long way in increasing their personal ability (which also increases their motivation - they are more likely to want to do something once they feel confident that they have mastered the necessary skills.)
  • The final piece to the puzzle is building the will power skills the team will need to stick with the change. He offered some specific tactics for this:
    • Regulate mood: Feeling positive and confident in your ability is a big piece of being able to stick with a change.
    • Distract and redirect: This can be a powerful way to avoid engaging in unwanted behaviors by focusing attention on something else.
    • Visit your future: This is a powerful motivator to increase your willpower to stick with a change. Maxfield suggests having the person “visit their aspirational future” (what it will be like if they stick with the change) as well as their “default future” (what would happen if they revert back to the old way of doing things). This visualization makes longer term consequences feel more real for people and helps longer term goals feel more tangible and motivating as well.

So, to effectively lead your team, be sure you cultivate the skills to both motivate your team and increase their abilities. In fact, you should always start with the skill building side of the equation, ensuring that your team has the ability to perform the desired behavior. Then, you can move to increasing their motivation. According to Grenny, this is the most effective way to be an influential leader.

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Photo Credit: Flickr User sand_and_sky, CC license

Jessica Wishart


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