Types of Motivation


"...a huge body of psychological research shows that rewards are more effective motivators than punishments, and there is substantial evidence that people and teams learn and perform much more effectively when the workplace isn't riddled with fear......although less effective than rewards, people will work to avoid punishments......people will go to great lengths to avoid public embarrassment..."

Robert Sutton, 2007

Thus people are driven by those 'sticks' of punishment and humiliation, and the 'carrots' of warmth and recognition.

Also, the 'good cop, bad cop' approach of alternating between nice (praising, etc) and nasty (criticizing, etc) has been shown to be an effective way to get what you want from people. Similarly complaining is an effective tool for motivation; apparently it helps create a sense of alarm and a feeling of urgency.

. Fear/coercion

Usually, fear is linked with crisis mentality. Generally, it is impossible to get people to put their hearts and souls into the workplace through fear/coercion.

"...there are only a narrow set of circumstances in which such an approach can work. If the threatening approach is able in a relatively short framework to produce benefits that are shared widely enough so that employees' behaviour changes..."

John Kotter as quoted by Loren Gray, 1997

If overdone (ie excessive fear), this approach can be intimidating and immobilising rather than energising ‐ it can freeze people.

"...organisations that operate on the myth that fear motivates performance also invite negative consequences..."

Annette Simmons, 2002

Organisations dominated by fear are controlled by rules, standards, procedures, processes, measurements and CYA (cover your arse) warnings

Fear leads to compliant behaviour and/or learned helplessness, which eventually lead to hatred, and fear restricts workers' creativity. On the other hand, if a threatening approach is able, in a very short time-frame, to produce benefits that are shared widely enough so that the employees' behaviour changes, it can be of limited use. It needs to be counterbalanced with positive incentives.

One of my clients explained to me how, by using fear, a project manager caused a massive "blow-out" in construction costs: any criticisms or negative messages were treated as a basis for a "career change". As a result, the staff only gave the good news to the project manager and consequently the performance of the project suffered drastically.

. Competitive spirit

Most people like to compete and win. Healthy competition can direct attention from internal disputes to external customers. In number-driven cultures, this is a common and effective form of motivation. Examples of this are provided by sporting competition.

. Desire for greatness

Many people like to achieve and to think of themselves as the best. This is shown by outstanding performances in the Olympic Games, such as Kieren Perkins and Grant Hackett's wins in the 1500m swim event in 1996 and 2004 respectively

. Inclination to do the right thing

Focussing on the good nature of people. The popularity of Australian volunteerism is a good example of this

. Personal gain

This is linked with personal development and involves the possibility of strengthening one's performance record to gain financial rewards - a natural incentive for most people, especially in aggressive, fast-growing companies in which big personal gains are available. At the same time, non-financial incentives are important, especially for long-term performance improvement and fulfilment.

. Desire to make a difference

This can be a combination of competitive spirit, doing the right thing and desire for greatness but it is usually more pragmatic ‐ it is people taking great pride and satisfaction in accomplishing a difficult task and overcoming the odds. The ABC TV series - Australian Story - regularly shows ordinary Australians doing extra-ordinary things.

(sources: Loren Gray, 1997; Robert Sutton, 2007)


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