Article by Chester Elton and Adrian Gostick
After interviews with thousands of leaders and employees over the last 20 years, here’s an aha: Most leaders strongly believe that their people are motivated in pretty much the same ways they are. For instance, if a manager is purpose-oriented, then he’ll most likely believe only hedonistic jerks are motivated by money. If she’s driven by ideas like pressure and competition, then only the lazy would clock out every day at five o’clock. If he’s all about friendship and teamwork, then only loners and malcontents would want to work alone.
Many leaders carry these biases around like so much lumpy baggage. And in teams where these prejudices are allowed to thrive, those who fit in become “teacher’s pets,” while those who don’t fit feel alienated and unappreciated. Ever worked at that place?
The truth is, it takes a diverse team of people with differing motivators to truly succeed in business. To accomplish more and fully engage their people, the best leaders we studied learn to speak their teammates work language—whatever it is.
In our research, we identified five clusters of commonly related motivators that we called “identities.” It’s important to stress that we’re not saying that any given individual is purely one of these following types, just as almost no one could be described as purely an idealist (with no realist tendencies at all) or a one-hundred-percent introvert. These are archetypes, and each of us will inevitably tend to have stronger associations with some of these types over the others.
We found these identities are most helpful in identifying the driving motivators of those we work with or who work for us. With a nod to Gary Chapman (author of The 5 Love Languages) for borrowing his organizing structure for just this article, The 5 Work Languages (or identities) are as follows. Please note these are short descriptions of complex subjects, abbreviated here:
The Achievers: If this is your work language, you feel most engaged when you are given tight deadlines, are challenged to tackle ambitious goals, and get to work to solve problems. Achievers usually like to be put in charge of others or projects, and at the very least want to be in control of their own destinies.
The Builders: When this is your work language, you are more purpose-driven, hardwired to develop others and serve those around you. Builders cultivate loyal friendships and thrive in strong team environments. They also typically believe it’s important to speak out on significant issues.
The Caregivers: Those with this language are often more tuned in to others’ emotions. They are more motivated when they have regular fun at work, and believe balancing time at work and time with their family time is important.
The Reward-Driven: Those who speak this work language are typically more extrinsically motivated, driven to compete and win prizes—whether money or applause or the admiration of others. Many of the Reward-Driven believe that the cocktail-party question, “What do you do?” is extremely important.
The Thinkers: This language is for those who are more creative, who love to learn, enjoy a varied routine, and like to feel an adrenaline rush now and then. Most Thinkers get frustrated with red tape and bureaucracy, and want their work to make an impact on the world around them.
So how is this information useful in diagnosing what changes we should make in our work, or what changes a leader could make for his people?
Take just one case, that of a professional woman who took our assessment and discovered her number one identity was Thinker. Specifically, she was driven by ideas such as creativity, autonomy, variety, impact, and learning. Near the bottom of her list of motivators were pressure, teamwork, and money. It might seem natural, then, to find she worked as a creative director at an advertising agency. Case closed, right? After all, wouldn’t that job allow her to exercise her creativity every day, in a place that gave her a fair amount of autonomy and variety crafting pitches and developing campaigns? You’d think so, but she spoke with us because she was increasingly discontent with her work.
It seemed the job was high pressure, which was demotivating to her, and she did her work almost exclusively for one big client, which gave her little variety or the learning opportunities she craved. She was loyal to the agency, and wanted to stay, but she was, in her words, feeling “straight-jacketed.” Over the course of a few months she worked with her manager to sculpt her job. Together they identified a need that was unfulfilled in the firm. She was able to form a major deal group, which pitches to win new clients. Today it’s her job to do just enough to win a deal, and then she turns that new client over to one of the fulltime creative teams. In a given year she’ll now work on dozens of pitches, meeting with potential clients to learn about their product strengths, their competitors, their consumers, and then delivering a creative pitch that shows how the agency’s strategy aligns with the customer’s specific goals. She jokes that she’s become a hired gun; and you know what, she loves it.
Obviously this type of complete job sculpting may not be possible for most of us, but the good news is many of the people we’ve spoken with over the past few years writing our new book What Motivates Me were able to make relatively minor tweaks to their current jobs and see upticks in fulfillment levels. Many fulfilled people didn’t find their bliss down a new path; they made course corrections on the path they were already on.
This article is copyrighted and authorized by: Chester Elton and Adrian Gostick
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