Next up on our round-the-mind tour of intrinsic motivators – Contribution. We are social creatures who thrive in an environment in which we can interact with others in a group. Numerous studies have shown that some of the happiest and longest-lived people in the world are those with deep social connections and relationships. Heck, even prisoners (thieves, murderers, etc.) view separation from other prisoners (thieves, murderers) through solitary confinement as a punishment. Apparently even bad company is better than no company.
People clearly need groups. But we’re not happy just being part of the group, we want to matter to the group. The way that we matter to the group is by contributing our time, knowledge, and effort to the success of the group. The more we contribute, the more we matter. Contribution adds a very personal dimension to the working world because it changes the dynamic from simply doing our job, to doing our part.
Whether it’s staying late to help a co-worker finish a project, generating ideas to streamline a departmental process, or mentoring junior associates, contribution is about helping others to succeed. While contribution is by its nature selfless, there is a tremendous personal benefit to be gained by those who make consistent and significant contribution. Assisting others to succeed gains you influence. Managers will be more likely to promote you, co-workers will be more likely to support you, subordinates will be more likely work hard for you. “Whatever you do, comes back to you” is the type of touchy-feely tripe that normally makes my skin crawl, but it really does describe contribution. By helping others, you pave the way for your own success.
At this point you may say, “I certainly don’t see many enthusiastic contributors in my job.” Just as a control-freak manager can crush the motivator of autonomy by micromanaging, the desire to contribute can be crushed by a toxic work environment. Hyper-competitive promotion practices, aggressive performance “banding”, and “us vs. them” departmental wars can crush the desire to help coworkers. If your work environment resembles an episode of Survivor, your success will necessitate a more self-centered approach (and your first step should be to find a new job).
If you read A Fish Story, you know that the same action can be driven by both intrinsic and extrinsic motivators. There is a very simple form of contribution that has a similar twist and it enables you to immediately make a significant contribution to your team – positive feedback. Receiving positive feedback is an extrinsic motivator, but giving positive feedback is one of the simplest forms of contribution- an intrinsic motivator.
How is positive feedback a form of contribution? It compounds the other intrinsic motivators; it acknowledges accountability, it validates progress, it recognizes mastery. Remember, motivation is simply wanting. Positive feedback “feeds the flames” of motivation. It also just makes people happy, and that alone is an important contribution. Let me share a story to illustrate.
My wife is a stunning beauty, the kind of woman who would make me nervous if I weren’t married to her. Women like my wife are often resented, but she’s universally adored. Why is she so well-liked? She generously offers authentic compliments to those around her – especially other women. When I asked her why, she replied, “People don’t get enough compliments. It costs me nothing, makes them happy, and it makes me feel pretty good too. Why on earth doesn’t everyone do it?” Sometimes you just know when you’re hearing wisdom, and this was one of those times for me. Positive feedback is one the easiest, most effective, and cheapest ways that you can make a significant contribution to your team – and it feels good to do it.
According to Gallup, 51% of the workforce feels that they are not appreciated for the work they do. I firmly believe that while many workers are not appreciated, in many cases the appreciation is simply not communicated. This is not just a management problem, it’s a team problem.
Those of you who manage
When your team members do something fantastic, do you acknowledge it? To repurpose those annoying TSA announcements “See something say something!” I’m not saying you should hand out unearned compliments, don’t do that. But unless your company is going up in a ball of flames there must be SOME achievements that can be recognized, even if they are modest. Even the nitwits at Dunder Mifflin had some wins!
Those of you who are managed
Have you told your co-workers that you appreciate what they do for you? It’s not just management’s responsibility to communicate appreciation. I challenge you to try it. Find someone who genuinely makes your life easier, look them in the eye, and tell them honestly how much better your work life is because of what they do. Watch their reaction and tell me that doesn’t make you feel pretty darn good.
Both of the above
Have you told your manager that you appreciate them? I highly encourage you to be on the lookout for an opportunity to provide genuine positive feedback. It just might transform your relationship with a difficult manager, and it will be enormously appreciated by a good one. My wife once told me that beautiful women are rarely told they are beautiful because everyone assumes they already know it and hear it all the time. You may think that a great manager knows they are a great manager, but I guarantee they don’t hear it enough.
Around 10 years ago, I fired a client who was abusive to one of my staff. The team member in question wrote me a heartfelt letter expressing how much it meant to her that I was willing to stand up and fight for her. I still have that letter today and will occasionally reread it to get an emotional boost. Your manager is a person too, with many of the same insecurities and fears that you have. Your positive feedback can make a significant contribution to their confidence as a leader.
It is literally true that you can succeed best and quickest by helping others to succeed.Napolean Hill
More than any other motivation, contribution captures our desire to be good people and help others, which also happens to be one of the best ways we can help ourselves.
Seth Preus is an advisor to Mivation, and the creator of both Racing Snail and Leaderboard Legends. As a thought leader, he uses his 25 years of experience in sales, software development and business ownership to change the equation from “How can I get my team to perform?” to “How can I get my team to WANT to perform.”