What's Your Motivational Focus

Posted: March 29, 2013

When asked about their motivations, people answer differently. An article in the March issue of “Harvard Business Review” describes two types of people based on their “motivational focus,” which has a huge impact on how we approach life’s challenges and demands.

Promotion-focused people see their goals as a path to advancement, and they focus on the rewards that will accrue when they achieve them. They play to win, are comfortable taking chances, like to work quickly, dream big and think creatively.

Unfortunately, such behaviors make these people more prone to error and less likely to think things through. This means they usually don’t have a “Plan B” if things go wrong.

In contrast, prevention-focused people see their goals as responsibilities, so they concentrate on staying safe. They play so that they don’t lose; worry about what might go wrong if they aren’t careful, and are risk-averse. They work slowly and meticulously; their work is more thorough, accurate and carefully considered.

While the promotion-focused person generates lots of ideas, good and bad, the prevention-minded person can usually tell the difference between the two.

Most of us have a dominant — rather than singular — motivational focus, which affects what we value, what we pay attention to and how we feel when we succeed or fail. 

While it’s certainly important to understand yourself, effective managers will also identify the motivational focus of others with whom they interact, especially subordinates.

That’s essential in order to create what the article calls “motivational fit,” which plays an instrumental role in knowing how to frame goals, what incentives to provide and how to seek and give feedback. Achieving motivational fit enhances and sustains both the eagerness of the promotion-minded and the vigilance of the prevention-minded.

Be courageous at work. That’s the message in the January/February issue of “Training.” Courage is often considered to be the first virtue (because it makes all the other virtues possible), so the article’s tips about acting with courage merit consideration.

One suggestion is to “strike out fear” by writing down all past incidents where you were fearful but pressed on anyway. Everywhere you see the word “afraid” or “scared,” replace it with the word “courageous.” As the author states, courageousness is not fearlessness, but rather acting while fearful.

Another suggestion is to develop “assertiveness courage.” Begin by providing meaningful feedback, rather than being a “yes man” or woman. At work, a lack of assertiveness can mean lack of relevancy and power.

Finally, work up to big courageous acts — such as attempting a task at which you’ve previously failed — through small courageous acts. This will build the confidence necessary to successfully undertake big acts. 

Make employee engagement sustainable. Organizations are increasingly focused on identifying the combined variables that produce an engaged workforce, which benefits not only the bottom line, but also employees’ overall wellbeing. The February issue of “Training and Development” sheds a new and important light on the subject.

“Sustainable engagement” is defined as the intensity of employees’ connection to their organization based on three factors: 
 The extent of their discretionary effort committed to achieving work goals
 An environment that supports productivity in multiple ways
 And a work experience that promotes wellbeing.

For sustainable engagement to flourish, take two key actions: effectively enable workers with internal support, resources and tools; and create a work environment that more fully energizes employees by promoting their physical, emotional and social wellbeing. 

Philip B. DuBose is a management professor in the college of business at James Madison University.

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