Threaten people with success!

As a coach, mentor and trainer it is normally my job to get people to do things which otherwise they would not do. Motivation is the word which is used and abused, but how is true motivation achieved? There are two schools of thought on this.

Pleasure vs pain concept of human motivation. This method of motivation concludes that the avoidance of pain is a greater motivation than the desire to experience pleasure.

Taken to a very basic level, we see this very often in parenting scenarios….”clean your room or else……..”. Most parents agree that the stick works better than the carrot with kids……Well most parents I know. And it actually does make sense, after all, the offer of a bribe (the carrot) to clean ones room does not take anything away if the room is not cleaned and kids quickly realise that since they are certainly no worse off, the option of doing nothing is cool. BUT if the stick is used then the child knows something “bad” will happen if they defy their parent. So avoidance of pain outweighs the seeking of pleasure. Result? Room cleaned.

But how does this work in adults, when the scope for threats is limited? Well first thing is the threat of “pain” takes a different shape. No longer is it likely to be punishment based, rather we focus on the ‘pain’ of failure. In my early days as a coach I was taught to spend time exploring the consequences of failure with my clients. The idea was to frighten them into action, purely because they wished to avoid the consequences of failure. Sure we’d also highlight the benefits of success, but make no mistake the ultimate objective was to instil a chilling fear of failure which would drive their every action.

However recent research has highlighted a folly in this method of motivation and now coaches are encouraged to approach motivation slightly differently…and with good reason. The researched showed that humans tend to dwell on possible negative outcomes, so much that it actually affected their overall performances. In other words concern over failure induced failure.

So the next time you wish to motivate your staff, focus their minds on the rewards of success, rather than the fear of failure. Not only will they do better, but you’ll be a nicer person for it.