Motivation: money and prestige

I am a firm believer that motivation is a self-produced resource that cannot be produced by only boosted by someone else. Much like electromagnetic induction. What our roles as ‘motivators’ might be, is to help someone understand their own key drivers, come to terms with it, and assess how those needs can be filled.

In one of my training sessions there was a heated debate on whether money is a motivating instrument. I was quick to reference a favourite theory of mine, Herzberg’s dual-factor theory of splitting factors into elements that enhance your ‘job satisfaction’ (motivators) and others that are essential to maintaining the baseline, whose absence cause dissatisfaction but can’t give satisfaction. Herzberg counts job security, salary and fringe benefits among the hygiene factors. Some of us agreed with this theory. However, another participant, who leads a sales team, vehemently disagreed. In a base plus incentive model, he said, money is a motivator. Also, he added, a person with a personal crisis in need of money will be positively motivated. Again, I disagree.

So there a thought came: it all comes down to scarcity of resources.

What a person in a financial crisis needs is cash. If, coincidentally, that person is in a base plus incentive salary model, all they have to do is an extra effort to get access to that scarce resource that is cash. But will that make them satisfied? I think not. Money manifests as a basic need of security (as in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs) and will not increase their overall happiness. I’ve been there, done that.

What a sales person (as well as everyone else) might truly wish for is esteem. And here it all comes down to measurement: 1 unit of esteem can mean an lump sum of currency, a few pats on the back, a nomination as employee of the month, a job title etc. This will vary from person to person.

If as a child one was taught to diminish their successes, if it was frowned upon to celebrate themselves because their parents feared they’d grow selfish, they might find they cannot get enough sense of accomplishment even when they overachieve. (Funny how similar it is to the imposter syndrome.) Esteem became a scarce resource. What a person with such a background might do is desperately try to fill that void with position, status, title or with money.

Voids cannot be filled until the wound that made them aren’t healed.

As mentors, leaders, motivators, or people managers, do we have to become therapists? Do we have to show a person that giving them an extra title, and extra status, a bonus won’t give them satisfaction until they heal their wounds and find what is behind their strongest needs and drivers?


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