Once I got a $30,000 raise. It turned out to be the worst job I ever had.
Unfortunately, in order to get a raise, I had to leave a good job.
As a single provider, the overnight increase put me in a state of near ecstasy. It was The.Motivating.Factor to leave that good job – and of course, I thought I was going to a great opportunity. However, I learned that money is not my motivator.
I’m not alone. In fact, most people who perform complex work, once they are paid fairly, are not motivated by money. We are motivated by things like Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose. [For more on this topic, listen to Dan Pink on Motivation: “extrinsic motivators are ineffective for complex work.”]
I’ve been thinking about this topic a bit, so I am going to share a professional experience that brought this concept alive for me and changed how I work with and lead others. In short, as a single provider, money was a motivating factor to leave a good job, but money was not a motivating factor to stay in a bad one. Read on to find out what I learned.
FIRST, GET COMPENSATION OFF THE TABLE
We need to be paid what we are worth so compensation is not getting in the way of doing our best work. PERIOD.
Practitioners: Research the market rate for your skillset and experience, and negotiate like your retirement depends on it. Then you can focus on your internal motivators, knowing you are compensated fairly.
Leaders: Please. Invest in talent by offering a competitive market rate, and then money is no longer is a factor in motivation. Avoid those awkward exit interviews where the only problem your star employee had is one that you could solve. And save us the counter-offer. We all know how weak that play is.
NEXT, EXPLORE YOUR INTRINSIC MOTIVATORS
Back to my shiny new, well-paid job…. From the professional standpoint, I was able to successfully deliver a multi-million dollar program that had C-suite visibility. We delivered on time and under budget; I had alignment with the executive sponsor, clearly identified outcomes, and a team of top performers. It was a huge win for the organization.
But the relationship I had with my manager was incredibly rocky. There was a communication chasm between us that we would never close. It was as if we didn’t speak the same language and we didn’t appear to others that we were on the same team. He would question my actions, he would second-guess my decisions; he would challenge me in front of my team on a daily basis. I would get defensive; I shut down; and once, on the verge of crying after one of his cutting critiques, I got up and left a meeting before I broke down – or my simmering rage broke out.
If I am judged on business expectations, I was performing well – on the outside. But I was fracturing inside. I dreaded going into work. I internalized his criticism to the point I was afraid to make any mistakes so I worked non-stop. I felt I was not valued even though I was doing good work so I didn’t get involved in anything else happening in the office. I found myself debating every day if I needed to stay in order to learn a lesson, or if I needed to leave in order to survive. My frustration about work seeped into my personal life, and the people closest to me started to comment on the negative changes in me they observed. This went beyond my professional life – I was at a personal all-time low.
After an intervention by a good friend and mentor, I ended up resigning a few months shy of one year of tenure. I was afraid this would be a negative mark on my resume, but my new opportunity ended up being one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve had in my professional life. Several months later, I was feeling healthy and whole again. I woke up every day motivated and inspired, and I went on to accomplish some major milestones that year.
What made the difference? In my run from failure and despair, I happened to fall into a safe environment with an amazing leader. He set out a clear vision that was inspiring and challenging – but reachable. He valued my inputs while challenging me to go further and think differently. We did some brave experimenting to help unlock the potential of our teams and improve delivery and when we failed every now and then, he was the first to help me try again. It was a time of learning, healing, and experimentation.
As I was mending, I also learned some valuable lessons about myself. In retrospect, I know now that I could have approached my old manager differently, before things got so bad. Given the opportunity again, I would approach him with courage, transparency, and a willingness to listen to his input. By shutting down and internalizing my issues, I lost an opportunity to move the needle not just in my own life, but for my team, too. I would lessen up on my own picture of success and ask more about his expectations so that we could share in that understanding. I would examine where I could honestly do better and admit where I was wrong. James Altucher, the popular author and speaker, implies that humility without negativity seems to be key to moving forward in these scenarios. (Negative might be: “I’m not good enough so I will give up.”) He uses the phrase, “Humility with forward action.”
Eventually, this experience helped me clarify my own intrinsic motivators that I use to evaluate every engagement now: I need an environment where I can collaborate with others, have the support of leadership, and work on meaningful products.
EXPLORE WHAT MOTIVATES OTHERS
Now that I am a little clearer on what motivates me, I wanted to go further and recreate that same motivating environment I experienced.
I needed to find out what motivates my teams.
I’ve experimented with a few things, and had great success using different exercises like Spotify’s Health Check. But I particularly like the Moving Motivators game from Jurgen Appelo’s material in his book Management 3.0 to understand more about my team’s motivators.
Using ten motivating factors in a facilitated exercise helps a team understand what it is that motivates them as individuals, and as a team. (You can find the free content online, or for a small price, buy a set of cards.) Check out Mgt 3.0 – Appelo has a number of related exercises, like empathy mapping with new team members to understand how they like to work and what they like to do and the kind of people that they are. I’d also like to hear from you what has worked in hour teams.
I’ve learned that you can re-charge your own motivation, before it reaches a critical low like I experienced. Start with some ruthless self-exploration. Don’t be afraid to share your fears and insights with others as you uncover new truths about yourself and get their support. And once you have some clarity, consider how these conversations can help change the motivation in your team or those around you.
I hope this has helped to you feel inspired to motivate others to make the world a safe place to fail, err, to learn.
Live your truth; hone your craft; show your thanks