Motivation is an Inside Job

March 13, 2019 Potential Project

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Traditional workplace initiatives designed to increase engagement and productivity tend to focus on extrinsic incentives and superficial gratification – bonuses, funky office environments, free food, flex time, and the like. While all of these can be great, they tend to offer only short-term injections of motivation without sustainable results. They may work for a little while, but the effects begin to wear off as people start to take the money, titles, foosball tables, and free energy bars for granted.

External initiatives and perks never truly motivate people for the long term. Rather, internal drivers, such as meaningful engagement, connectedness, and feeling valued, engage employees on the deeper level needed for long-term commitment and productivity. If we want to cultivate thriving organizations, we need to understand what really matters to people: We all want to be happy. We all want to live meaningful lives and contribute to the well-being of others. This is a fundamental human truth that especially applies to work.

People leaving the office every day with a sense of fulfillment want to come back, focus on tough projects, and work hard. When people find meaning in what they do, they want to continue doing their best, day after day, year after year. Fostering this kind of genuine commitment from our people requires creating organizations where people, not profit, are the core of the company’s values – where decisions are made based on enabling human flourishing, versus (solely) enabling shareholder bottom-line interests.  

Not only is it a wonderful idea to put people at the center of your strategy, but there is also a direct correlation between how organizations treat their people and how well they perform against their targets. In their book “Conscious Capitalism,” Whole Foods CEO John Mackey and professor Raj Sisodia share compelling research demonstrating how organizations that have a strong focus on people financially outperform organizations whose primary emphasis is only on growing shareholder wealth.

So what is the starting point for creating a more people-centric culture? It is ensuring that people are core to the organization’s values. Many companies tout that employees are their most important asset; some may even have it as part of their stated mission. However, too often day-to-day reality tells a different story. Ultimately, the key to creating a truly people-centric culture is to develop leaders who are people-centric themselves – leaders who can effectively engage and motivate their people from the inside out.

For more than a decade, we and our colleagues at Potential Project have trained tens of thousands of leaders in hundreds of companies like Microsoft, LEGO, IKEA, and Accenture. With the emerging movement of employees looking for more meaning, happiness, and connectedness, we asked ourselves, “What do leaders need today in order to build more people-centric organizations?”

To answer this question, we conducted a three-year research project assessing more than 30,000 leaders from thousands of companies in more than 100 countries, in addition to conducting in-depth interviews with hundreds of C-level executives. We have reviewed thousands of studies on leadership in the fields of neuroscience, organizational development, and psychology.

Based on our findings, we have conclusively established that three mental qualities stand out as being foundational for successful leaders (and happy employees) today: mindfulness (M), selflessness (S), and compassion (C). Together, we call these foundational skills “MSC leadership.” Mindfulness makes your people feel seen and heard. Selflessness gives your people space to develop and do what they do best. Compassion helps your people feel safe and connected. MSC leadership is the easiest and most effective way to bring out the best in your people, so that your people can bring out the best in the organization.

To achieve MSC leadership and better engage your people at their intrinsic level, you must first apply mindfulness, selflessness, and compassion to yourself, and then to your people, and then to your organization. By doing this you will be part of a growing movement toward creating more people-centric organizations, leveraging the potential that comes from being a more human leader, and ultimately being part of a culture that truly cares for and motivates its people from the inside out.

(Jacqueline Carter and Marissa Afton will co-present a session entitled “Mindfulness and Compassion: Core Business Strategies for 21st-Century Leaders” at WorkHuman 19, in Nashville, March 18-21.)

About the Author

Potential Project

Potential Project is a global leadership training, organizational development, and research firm. Jacqueline Carter is international partner and director at Potential Project. Marissa Afton is client solutions director at Potential Project.

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