When Motivation Isn't Enough

Motivation is not enough. If you motivate an idiot, all you have is a motivated idiot.

For years, people have called me a “motivational speaker.” On the one hand, I’m delighted that people get fired up at my programs, but on the other hand, I’m always a little cautious about that title. After all, my specialty is peak performance, and I know there’s a lot more to peak performance than a sixty-minute rah-rah speech.

It’s like the knight back in the Middle Ages. He was returning to the castle one evening after a long, hard day of skirmishes. His armor was dented; his helmet was askew, and his plume was broken off. Even his horse was limping.

The lord of the manor saw him coming and went out to greet him. “What happened? What hath befallen you, Sir Albert?” he asked.

The knight straightened himself up and said, “Oh, Sire, I have been striving in your behalf all day, robbing and pillaging and burning the towns of your enemies to the west.”

“You’ve been doing what?” asked the astonished nobleman. The knight repeated his statement louder and slower in case his old master couldn’t hear him.

“But I haven’t any enemies to the west,” cried the nobleman.

“Oh?” asked the knight. Then after a pause he said, “Well you do now.”

There’s a moral to the story. The knight was motivated, but that wasn’t enough. Motivation in and of itself is never enough.

You’ve also got to know something. You’ve got to know what you should be doing. That’s where the learning comes in. As Daniel Kim, a researcher at MIT, says, “Learning is increasing one’s ability to take effective action.”

If you want to improve someone’s performance, it starts with understanding performance. Dr. Price Pritchett defines “Performance as Capability times Commitment.” I think he’s right on target. Capability is all about “know” and “know how” — in other words, learning. And commitment is all about “reward” and “consequence” — or motivation. You’ve got to have both.

That’s what I try to accomplish in every one of my programs. I try to teach people what works and then motivate them to do it. If you’re a manager, supervisor, team leader, salesperson, or parent, you’ve got to do the same thing whenever you want to get peak performance from others.

For this week’s “Tuesday Tip,” I want to focus on just the capability or learning portion. What are you doing in your organization to make sure your people are learning? Are you giving people all the training they want and all the training they need? If your answer is “no,” don’t expect miracles when it comes to peak performance.

The best companies answer “yes” to my question. The Container Store, for example, has topped Fortune magazine’s list of the “100 greatest places to work” for two years in a row. One of their secrets is their massive training program. They provide 235 hours of training for every one of their first-year, full-time employees. Compare that to the national average in the retail industry, where similar employees are given a mere 7 hours of training. No wonder the employee turnover rate in retail is about 100% while The Container Store averages a turnover rate of just 15-25%.

So if you want to get peak performance from others, YOU’VE GOT TO TRAIN, TRAIN, TRAIN. John Wooden, the legendary basketball coach, said the same thing. John led UCLA to nine NCAA championships, but he never scouted an opponent. When John and I were doing a program together one time, he said, “If I can prepare my five men to the best of their ability, they (the opposition) will never have a chance.”

Of course, you may be saying, “We have a tight budget. We can’t afford to offer extensive ongoing training.” It certainly may appear that way. I know it’s not easy to find the funds or the time.

But let me say this, the best companies consistently find a way to do it. They know it’s one of the best ways to attract and keep the best employees. They know they can’t afford not to train their employees.

Others of you may be saying, “What if we train people, and they leave? Wouldn’t that be a waste of time and money?” Of course, there’s always that chance. But think about it. Do you really expect a staff of under-trained people to achieve your goals? I would say that THE ONLY THING WORSE THAN TRAINING YOUR PEOPLE AND HAVE THEM LEAVE IS NOT TRAINING THEM AND HAVE THEM STAY.

The truth is, trained people are not as likely to leave, and trained people are more likely to be peak performers. There’s an old proverb that says: “If you want to be prosperous for a year, grow grain. If you want to be prosperous for ten years, grow trees. If you want to be prosperous for a lifetime, grow people.”

According to research by psychologist Dr. Bev Smallwood, continuous learning is listed at or near the top when employees are asked what keeps them committed to an organization. The really good employees want to be on the cutting edge of learning.

This is especially true if you’re managing some of the 40 million American workers in their 20’s and 30’s. It may sound ridiculous, but TRAIN THEM FOR ANOTHER JOB. Younger employees don’t plan on staying with one company their entire career. So, ironically, the way to keep them is help them acquire the skills that will make them more marketable later on. The more they can learn in your company, the more they’ll want to stick around.

And for workers in general, Saul Gellerman, author of Motivation in the Real World: The Art of Getting Extra Effort From Everyone–Including Yourself, shares this secret. Until retirement age nears, he says workers care more about where their jobs are going to lead them than whether or not their jobs are “fair” or “pay enough.”

That’s why so many workers are willing to tolerate jobs that leave a lot to be desired. They’ll tolerate these jobs if they believe it will “lead to something better.” Are you offering training that meets that need? I hope so.

Action:  Take a look at the training offered in or supported by your organization. Then see if it passes these three tests: 1) Is there enough training? 2) Does the training educate and motivate? and 3) Does the training prepare people for their next job?  If you answer “no” to any of these questions, and if you desire to be among the “best” organizations, it’s time to speak up and ask for what you want. Your future and the future of your organization depend on it.