Flipping the Switch #2 – WIIFM

WIIFMI was working with a group of mixed age volunteers to discover what kind of advertising they should do for their charity. Since the broadcast media was one option, we needed to know to what radio stations would typical users of their services likely listen. The target audience would most likely be a demographic similar to those who’ve volunteered to work at the charity, so I asked each person to simply write the call letters of the radio station they most often listened to on a card and give them to me. One person’s response was the most revealing and his was not even an actual radio station. He wrote “WII-FM.”  And scribbled  “What’s In It For Me?”

People always work with greater enthusiasm, stay at the job longer, and do so with fewer complaints when they are working for themselves. So you, the leader/manager must find ways to let people work for themselves even while they work for you.

Stated or not, acknowledged or not, understood or not, every person on the face of the earth is already motivated because they possess personal needs to be addressed and met. Money is certainly one need and on more than one level. For some people all of the time and everyone some of the time, the need for money is fundamental to survival. For others money represents achievement, self-worth, or power. Its meaning and importance can and does vary from person to person and from time to time in a person’s lifetime.

What motivates a person to do anything has been the subject of lengthy and profound study by many experts. It is not completely understood because it is not exact and thus there are no foolproof formulas. Consequently motivational methods are not guaranteed to work every time.

Motivation is complex. Like building a fire it requires:


An ignition source, and

The right conditions to support the fire.

But motivation is not complicated.

There is no esoteric body of knowledge reserved for a select few, no secret society with a franchise on truth keeping motivational skills hidden away from the rest.

Everyone motivates others, even if they do it badly. Even the most clumsy among us will, upon occasion, hit on the right combination and a fire will ignite. Conversely, there are times when even the most skilled motivator falls flat. The best managers/leaders have some insight into the general dynamics of why people do what they do and into the specific dynamics of why a certain individual does what he or she does.

The most effective motivators among us know how to apply the right technique to the right person at just the right time, and do so consistently. Thus their strategic partnerships last longer and produce more with fewer struggles. Adding strategic partners to yourself  is much more easily done and maintained if we know what lights a fire under someone we want to work with (the fuel) and what keeps it burning (the unique conditions supporting that fire with that fuel).

Motivation functions internally. It is purely personal. Usually immediately and always ultimately we will do what’s in our own personal interests. We respond to values, to attractions, to stimuli because they touch something that appeals deeply within. What works to motivate one might work with another, but it might not. I know what’s important to me and I know what’s necessary for me at this moment in my life; however those values have changed over time and will likely continue to evolve. Given my present situation – financial, relational, emotional, physical, spiritual, and psychological – I know what appeals to me and what doesn’t. Therein lies both the problem and the solution.

Those who motivate me most know me best, so do those who motivate you, as will you of those you need to motivate. Personal knowledge, understanding, and insight are absolutely fundamental, even crucial to building a fire within someone. At this point it may sound like I am either contradicting myself or wandering away from the premise of this series. Did I not state that our circle of concern is always greater than our circle of ability? Did I not therefore deduce that we need to employ and deploy others in our attempt to reach the outer limits of our concerns? Yes.  Does that not at least imply that this is about finding people who will understand what we want done and then do it for us? Yes. Isn’t this about finding people who will do what I want and need them to do? Yes.

All true! This is about you, your concerns, your limitations, your needs, and your objectives. However, the days of top-down, I-give-the-orders-around-here management are long gone. They didn’t work all that well when they were here. The best results, the most far-reaching effects, and the most compelling relationships are those in which the leader/manager (that’s you) understands what uniquely lights a fire in the people with whom you work and how to keep it burning because you possess insight into their nature, personal ambitions, and character. Just re-read the post immediately before this one to see a real life example of this.

The problem is they won’t do what you want unless and until something about what you want becomes something they want. The solution appears when it becomes personal. Then they will do it with vigor, creativity, and endurance. It is your privilege to make your objectives theirs. It is your responsibility to do so without manipulating them.

More about that all too prevalent condition within leaders and managers later in this series. In the next article, I will discuss generational differences and what you, the manager/leader need to know to motivate associates from different age groups.

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