Communicating the motivation for your actions
I recently had a conversation about how perception shapes people’s lives. The discussion was relative to the perception of what motivates people to work exceptionally hard, and their family’s attitude toward that effort.
One spouse feels that their partner works hard to support the family, and that effort is a reflection of their commitment to provide for their family. Another spouse views their partner’s effort as a repudiation of the family and them. One person gets satisfaction from their spouse’s efforts; the other experiences unnecessary stress, believing they are not valued by their spouse.
Since that conversation, I have had several talks with people about the problem of inaccurate assignment of motivation.
It turns out that this problem manifests itself throughout both personal and business relationships. People assign their version of motivation to others and take action accordingly.
At a recent small business gathering, the subject came up relative to hiring exceptional people. It would seem that hiring a super star would always be a good move if the price were right. It is a good idea — but you must be prepared for the flack you are going to get if you don’t communicate your reasons for the move.
Let’s use hiring an exceptional manager as an example. This should be a BFO — a blinding flash of the obvious: You want to increase profits. That means more work for production, better working conditions, more security, and everybody wins — that is, until the other people in the organization begin the assignment of motivation.
People are going to respond to your actions based on what they think you are trying to accomplish. Be it a partner or an employee, their assignment of your motivation is going to affect how they react to what you do.
You have made a decision to hire what you believe to be an exceptional person to do better business. Some employees will see your wisdom and embrace the change. Some will believe you have undermined their authority, passed them over or wasted company funds.
The people who believe you are trying to do good things for the business will act accordingly, and the people who think your actions are the result of some negative sinister motivation will act accordingly.
The resolution to this problem requires both parties to make an effort. The person performing the activity must communicate their goals and methodology. The person being affected by the activity must listen and try to comprehend the benefit to them.
For a spouse, a promotion or a successful business is a good thing: More money means a better life. The problem is that the new situation may require more hours and create more pressure. This is a time for a family to reach an understanding as to what they want. Life is about tradeoffs.
Another situation would be where a financial structure is changed for long-term planning purposes. A member of the organization may think that it was done to take advantage of them. You may not know how to change that mind set.
Sometimes you have to look at the other person’s motivation in holding their position about your objectives. What is the benefit to them in attributing erroneous motivations to your actions?
There are situations where there is a negative motivation to people’s acts, and there are situations where people are simply unhappy and will never be satisfied. Those situations will play out with a negative ending no matter what you do.
The trick is to be able to distinguish between bad situations and bad communication.
The road to hell is paved with good intentions, mainly because people don’t effectively communicate their intentions, or the recipient assigns an intention that is inaccurate. Either way, the results are not going to be good.
Make your case as best you can and hope the other party can be persuaded to work with you for a mutually acceptable outcome.
Paul Hense is president of Hense & Associates PC, a local accounting firm. He also is past chairman of the Small Business Association of Michigan.