Author Helps Provide Strategies for Motivation in the Legal World

Why Motivating People Doesn’t Work … And What Does

In her book, Why Motivating People Doesn’t Work … And What Does, Susan Fowler discusses how it’s counterproductive for employers to try to motivate employees. She applies psychological discoveries to lay out a tested model and course of action that will help leaders guide their people towards the kinds of motivation that not only increases productivity and engagement but gives them a profound sense of purpose.

Susan has 30 years of experience as a researcher, consultant, and coach in over 30 countries around the globe in the field of leadership. As an expert in the field of personal empowerment, she is the lead developer of The Ken Blanchard Company's Optimal Motivation product line, as well as Situational Self Leadership, their best-of-class self-leadership and personal empowerment program.

In this post, Susan offers answers to a few questions about motivating employees, especially those in the legal field. 

1. Why does motivating people not work? What's the principal at play?

You cannot motivate people because they are already motivated--just maybe not the way you want them to be, or not in an optimal way. Motivation isn't a quantity of something people have or don't have. People are always motivated, so it is the QUALITY of their motivation that matters. Instead of focusing on "motivating" people, we need to focus on helping them shift the quality of their motivation--and thus, their experience.

Of course, motivation is an internal experience, so that's where the shift needs to occur; not through external means such as incentives, tangible rewards, or intangible rewards such as power or status (carrots) or pressure, tension, threats, guilt, shame, or regret (sticks).

2. As a leader, do you need to lead people differently based on different professions and generations?

As a leader, you always need to be sensitive to individual needs such as the person's development level on a particular goal or task (as a situational leader, you don't give a someone who has been doing a task for five years the same direction and support as someone new to the task)

You also need to be aware of the person's Motivational Outlook (MO) on a goal through a Motivational Outlook Conversation, a sales person selling to win a trip or be #1 (external MO) will not be able to sustain positive energy, vitality, or sense of well-being like the sales person who sells based on their values for service and problem solving, a sense of purpose because of a belief in the good your product or service provides, or because they love selling. These are different reasons for selling and a savvy leader can help each sales person recognize their MO and either shift or maintain the more optimal outlook.

Finally, you must be attuned to a generation's most likely "programmed values" that might be underlying a person's reasons for doing what they are doing and help the person--regardless of generation--operate from "developed values" that are chosen, prized, cherished, and acted upon over time. Every generational cohort has programmed values; every person has the choice to live by unexplored and unexamined values, or to develop their own values by comparing them to alternatives and making a choice. This is important because when a person can align their work to developed values, they are more likely to experience an optimal MO.

3. What strategies should people use to help employees or themselves succeed in business?

I'd like to think that my whole book is a source of strategies that will help leaders and those they lead succeed. It depends on how you define success. If you want to experience sustained positive energy, vitality, and sense of well-being that results in mental and physical health, more creativity and innovation, and higher productivity, for example, then you might want to learn the skill of motivation: how to identify your current MO, shift to a more optimal MO, and reflect on your MO to notice the difference in your well-being that makes you want it to last.

As a leader, you want to shape a workplace more likely for people to experience an optimal MO--where their psychological needs for autonomy, relatedness, and competence are being satisfied.

4. Attorneys and the legal field is an animal in itself. What are best practices or strategies for "motivating" lawyers and those in the field?

From my experience, the legal field is set up on external motivation:  how many hours can you bill, how can you get a corner office, how can you make partner? It is also sets attorneys (and especially their support people) up with the imposed MO--fear of failing, disappointing, or not meeting expectations. You cannot "motivate" lawyers: they are already motivated. The question is why are they practicing law? If for suboptimal reasons (tangible or intangible rewards; to impress others; to not disappoint family members who have high expectations; power, etc.), they will not only shortchange their own careers, but do a disservice to those they are supposedly representing--taking short cuts, making unethical decisions (especially when it comes to billing!), treating their support people badly, suffering mental and physical health issues, etc.

Every lawyer needs to ask himself or herself:  Why do I do what I do?

The more often they can mindfully link a client, case, or task to developed and meaningful values, a noble purpose, or a sense of joy that comes from contributing to something greater than themselves or to the welfare of the whole, the more they will "succeed." Especially over time.

Traditional motivation seemed to have worked in the past, but really? Maybe the field needs to take another look at what they mean by "worked." Can you say that techniques practiced to motivate people have resulted in sustainable well-being? If not, then their short-term focus is a price they are paying for long-term "success."

5. Why did you write this book? What are you hoping to change with your book?

I wrote the book to share the new science that focuses on the quality of a person's motivation rather than the quality of motivation. I hope to be a catalyst for people's awareness and provide a framework and pragmatic course of action to shift from a suboptimal motivational experience to an optimal motivational experience any time, any where they choose--and the skill to help others do the same. I think people are longing for something at work and because they didn't understand the true nature of human motivation, named it money, power, and status. I think leaders need results and because they didn't understand the to put the new science of motivation to work, drive results with pressure, tension, and guilt. There is a better way, and I hope my book not only enlightens people to alternatives, but teaches them a new way to go to work each day.