A one size fits all approach can lead to damage and wasted time.
  • Todd Henry is a speaker, consultant, and author who teaches leaders and organizations across industries how to establish practices that lead to everyday brilliance.
  • The following is an excerpt from his new book, "THE MOTIVATION CODE: Discover the Hidden Forces that Drive Your Best Work."
  • In it, he shares how to discover our motivational type among 27 other motivational themes to better structure projects, communicate, facilitate decision-making, and choose more compatible career paths.
  • Henry explains that while many managers resort to a "one-size-fits-all" approach — like "pay, perks, titles, and promotions" — to encourage engagement, the best strategy is actually understanding every member's "unique Motivation Code." 
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Imagine a series of lockers. You need to retrieve valuable items from inside them, but each one is closed and locked with a padlock. If you were willing to make a mess, you could smash the padlocks with a sledgehammer or destroy the lockers with a blowtorch.

This would be a "brute force" method, and while it would grant you access to each of the lockers, it would certainly not be the most efficient way to open them. You could cause a lot of damage to yourself, the lockers, and their contents in the process. Also, think about all the energy you'd waste trying to smash open the lockers.

"THE MOTIVATION CODE: Discover the Hidden Forces that Drive Your Best Work," by Todd Henry.

Because they don't know any other method, many managers resort to "brute force" or "one size fits all" approaches to motivate their teams. As we've learned, these might include incentives like pay, perks, titles, and promotions, but also unhealthy, fear-based behaviors such as harsh language, threats, and constant critical feedback.

Just as opening the lockers with brute force can result in damage and wasted time, brute force motivation tactics can be largely inefficient because they don't speak to what truly mobilizes each individual. Also, as Deci demonstrated in his study, while effective at first, these brute force approaches lose their power over time.

Now imagine that you've been given a list of the combinations to the padlocks. Wouldn't it be easier (and much neater) to open the padlocks using their proper codes? Of course it would. This method is precise and causes no damage. In the same way, understanding the unique Motivation Code of each team member is the key to unlocking engagement, and this results in significant benefits to team dynamics and, ultimately, your organization's bottom line.

Retention

Understanding what motivates the people on your team is critical to not only having an engaged and thriving workplace culture, but also to ensuring the economic viability of your company. Unmotivated employees will begrudgingly follow orders for a while, but they'll eventually seek better opportunities. On the other hand, those who develop and retain the best talent keep employees for years and years without wasting precious dollars on hiring and training.

Cohesion

Understanding the underlying motivations of team members can help you resolve common areas of conflict. For example, if you're having continuous power struggles over who gets to lead a project, it could be because several team members have a need to be at the center of the action.

If there is a lot of blame shifting or a general lack of accountability, it may be because there aren't enough achievement-oriented people who find it necessary to advance the project. Does your team perform very well in the early stages but struggle to make progress once they hit a roadblock? This may be because you don't have any employees who are driven to complete projects, and instead your team is made up of visionaries who get excited about ideas but not about making those ideas happen.

Once you understand what motivates each member of your team, you'll begin to see why certain patterns of behavior play out over and over, and you'll understand how to fix them.

Momentum

Do you find that your team stalls later in the project, when it's time to deliver the final product? Or do they come on strong in the final stages, though they typically get off to a slow and painful start? Or do you find that conflict always seems to impede progress?

This lack of momentum could be a result of the conflicting motivational drivers of team members. Once you begin to understand these patterns and how they affect your team's drive, you will be able to lead your team much more effectively.

Excerpted from "The Motivation Code: Discover the Hidden Forces That Drive Your Best Work" by Todd Henry with permission of Portfolio, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright © Todd Henry, 2020.

Todd Henry.

Todd Henry teaches leaders and organizations how to establish practices that lead to everyday brilliance. He speaks and consults across dozens of industries on creativity, leadership, and passion for work. Todd is the author of five books, which have been translated into more than a dozen languages, and is the longtime host of "The Accidental Creative" podcast.