The A-B-C of motivation

Simon Black – 

Interestingly, research suggests that in terms of guiding behaviour and performance, people tend to prefer feedback (i.e. a consequence of what they have done) rather than guidance (an antecedent). Time spent highlighting rules and having team meetings to brief people on work or remind them of key issues (like health and safety) is less effective in shaping the desired behaviour required at work. This is important in deciding where interventions are needed to enable people to become more productive (not much productivity is achieved by attending a meeting!).

Remember the ABC of motivation: Consequences drive behaviour more than Antecedents. However, this does NOT mean we should manage people by ‘punishment and reward’! Punishment and reward conditions people into behaviours, stifles creativity, reduces feedback and suggestions and encourages people to hide mistakes or problems, even to cheat the figures (otherwise they get punished). Punishment and reward is a very blunt and undiscriminating instrument – it can easily punish good behaviour and reward bad behaviour (think about bankers bonuses here!).

Consequences must be carefully design: do people know the purpose of what they are doing, be committed to it, be able to monitor their work to achieve it and be able to adapt and improve things intelligently to achieve the desired outcomes?

The latest motivational thinking is described in ‘Self-Determination Theory’ (Ryan and Reci, 2000). This theory suggests that the conditions supporting a person’s autonomy, competence,and relatedness enable higher levels of motivation and engagement (including enhanced performance, persistence, and creativity). Also, conversely, if these three psychological needs are not supported there will be a detrimental impact on well-being; in other words, not doing these things will demotivate people and make them less effective in work.

This has important impact on the way we consider how to set goals (, build team relationships, design work, rewards and give feedback, agreeing team values, or our personal approach to leading people.


Further Reading:

Deming, W. E. (1994). The New Economics for Industry, Government, Education (2nd ed.). Cambridge, MA: MIT Center
for Advanced Engineering Study.

Kohn, A. (1986). No Contest: The Case against Competition. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin.

Komaki, Judith L. ; Collins, Robert L. ; Penn, Pat  (1982) The role of performance antecedents and consequences in work motivation.Journal of Applied Psychology, 1982, Vol.67(3), pp.334340

Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2000). Self-determination theory and the facilitation of intrinsic motivation, social development, and well-being. American Psychologist, 55, 68-78.

Other useful sources: