Mastering Motivation

When it’s time to recycle, that regular old garbage pail can look mighty appealing: no rinsing, no sorting, no hassle.

This upsets Canadians, however. So, in a worthwhile Canadian initiative, researchers led by Katherine White of the University of British Columbia have looked at what it takes to persuade people to put things into the right bins.

A report from the Stanford Graduate School of Business summarizes some of the findings. For instance, “if you’re going to keep giving people bad news in order to motivate them, it’s best to offer them concrete steps” about what to do. Otherwise, “focus on good news and pair it with the broader philosophy of why the action is important.”

That last notion certainly would have resonated with Peter Drucker, who felt that employees need to understand why they are doing something and how it relates, in a concrete way, to the organization’s greater purpose.

Image credit: Opensourceway

As we’ve noted briefly before, Drucker in his book Concept of the Corporation pointed to the example of a World War II aircraft plant whose employees were displaying “bad morale” and doing “slipshod work.” The problem turned out to be, according to Drucker, that the “workers had never seen any of the planes they were producing, had never found out where the part they worked on fitted, and had never been told how important this part was to the total functioning of the place.”

So a big bomber got brought in for employees to see. “The workers were invited to inspect it, to sit in it and to bring their wives and children along,” Drucker recounted. “When finally they were shown the part they were making in the bomber, and its importance was explained to them by a crew member, the bad morale and unrest disappeared at once.”

In other words, these workers suddenly got the benefits of clarity, concreteness and purpose—all of which are essential to provide if you want something from someone. “Communication . . . always makes demands,” Drucker wrote in Technology, Management, and Society. “It always demands that the recipient become somebody, do something, believe something. It always appeals to motivation.”

What do you find helpful when it comes to persuading people to behave a certain way?