What motivates people? How about you and your staff?

What motivates people?

Start by thinking what motivates you? If it’s not just money, why do most companies use hard cash as the only motivation – other incentives may well have a much higher value.

As Dan Pink says there is a mismatch between what science knows and business does. It’s shocking to say but business doesn’t know best – that is apart from those businesses that have used this knowledge to their advantage. But they are so few it’s not worth mentioning.

I can hear it now – “I don’t believe you, it’s all about the money”. Beliefs are really strong but if you’re prepared to challenge them, and go with Dan Pink’s years of research, you’ll know it’s also true that what motivates you may also be completely different to your peers, staff or your boss. It might be money and tangible incentives but it might not.

Career analyst Dan Pink examines the puzzle of motivation, starting with a fact that social scientists know but most managers don’t: traditional rewards aren’t always as effective as we think.

Dan Pink is well known but is not a lone voice with this research into human behaviour and what motivates people, but it’s only a few companies that have embraced it. When they did, and they unraveled the puzzle of motivation the result was amazing … it has transformed their business.

Take a look at Apple and Google – great places to work, effective, high performing? Through design or being lucky they seem to know what motivates people. And what’s more, their blend of motivation, attracts the right people to apply for jobs.

Now many reading this will think it’s difficult to change things. But what if you started the change today. Take a simple action – ask your staff what really motivates them. Of course, it all depends on what relationship you have with them as to how they might respond. If they tell you what  they think you want to hear, that could be even more revealing. either way you’ve started.

We can of course accelerate the process and include motivation as part of a Mind Fit  programme specific to your team. Dan Pink also mentioned about one team doing better than another – motivation is linked to performance, so whatever you do, don’t ignore it.

As ever you have the choice.

Change your mindset, change your business

What’s the best marketing message you have ever seen?

Nike’s “just do it” campaign increased their share of USA sport shoe business from 18% to 43% in 10 years.

In the jobs market CV’s arrive at an alarming pace thanks to the internet and social media, and jobs in the UK can be oversubscribed by hundreds if not thousands. How do you get to the top of that list, or at least in the top 3?

But you’re selling products and services, what has that got to do with you? The answer to that is it has everything to do with you – you’ve got the same problem – if you’re not at the top of the pile your customers will go elsewhere. And thinking how others might do it better, could be your most innovative move.

Some businesses have woken up to the simple fact that standing out in the crowd is one way to succeed.

Most reading this will already be making the excuses: we’re not that creative; haven’t got the time others have; budget is already stretched; we don’t need to stand out; our customers know who we are…

For those that want to succeed, are open to change your mindset and grow here’s one of our favourites…

What is the cost of Behavioural Waste? How much can you afford?

What has been ignored - Behavioural WasteBehavioural waste – what is it?

Have you ever wondered why no one makes decisions, there are too many meetings, some people never seem to be available and always busy, and projects always take longer? Could it be true in your business or with your clients and suppliers?

Surveys suggest your business could easily be losing half the time available through behavioural waste. Although you may not think it or believe it, you do have a choice. So how much behavioural waste do you choose to handle?


Behavioural waste is

All forms of behaviour that divert energy, talent and resources away from the personal or organisational purpose.

One of the problems in larger organisations is where people are over-whelmed with long ‘to do’ lists. The problem only starts there, as when you merge them all together separating out each project, it becomes abundantly clear that priorities assigned by people are different, so projects will take longer. And then tomorrow it all changes as the next top priority pops up from more fire-fighting operations in a different department. And so it will continue until the next meeting…

Here are a few more examples of behavioural waste:

  • Unnecessary meetings occur through habit
  • Underperformance not challenged
  • People say things like – ‘it’s not my fault’ or ‘we didn’t know that’
  • Disengaged people: people give up, go through the motions
  • Conflicts not addressed
  • Businesses fail to adapt to change
  • Rigid and habitual processes and systems become dated
  • Poor leadership
  • Cynical attitudes
  • Over-controlling behaviours – maybe bullying

Any behavioural waste means your business is underperforming and if you deal with it now, not only will you improve the business but it will be a better and happier place to work. People will be engaged and looking to improve and be more effective and efficient in what they are doing.

Current thought leaders like Dan Pink will agree

…this internal drive as the result of three factors: autonomy, mastery and purpose. People want control of their own destiny. They want to be challenged and find fulfillment in getting better at something. And they want to feel they are making a difference.”

Do you know how much behavioural waste you have in your company? Can you calculate it?

Consider that a recent survey in the IT industry suggested that in a 7 hour day only 3.1 hours were productive – that is 55% of the working day being unproductive. Global surveys are carried out regularly and report that about 80% of the workforce is disengaged, and these will add to the unproductive state in your business.

You can easily calculate a rough cost of the waste in your company by taking a look at the IT example above. We’re not talking about a return to the days of an old style of time and motion study here where you’re timed every time you leave your desk!  One of the most productive areas you’ll see in some organisations is where people congregate informally and communicate effectively – the coffee machine – but it could also encourage unproductive behaviour too. Again it’s down to your people and the level of engagement or disengagement.

So what would it look like if you improved your business by an hour a day per person? In the IT example that would be an increase of 30% in base line productivity – that could be managing 30% more clients, finishing projects much faster and still there’s room for more improvement. And it’s a fact that people enjoy being valued, engaged and productive – the day goes faster when the job and environment  is a pleasurable experience.


For more on the cost of behavioural waste to your organisation click here

The War on Talent


Remember that crazy moment in the Borat movie, when he is at the rodeo and he inadvertently congratulates the crowd for what he calls “America’s war of terror” (instead of “war on terror”). It was fabulous and yet frightening, because the crowd didn’t notice and they kept on cheering.


Something similar has happened with the “war for talent” in that it has inadvertently become the “war on talent”. Is this the product of unscrupulous consultants or is it merely the product of learnt blindness? How could what appeared to be common sense be so dramatically futile? This paper will explain how a simple idea that never defined itself objectively became a goal that was the means of effectively disengaging the majority of workers and managers in organisations.

Talent and the need to have an engaged workforce is a hot topic at the moment. But is talent the right focus?

What is talent?  

Ask a group of business people this question and a typical answer is that some people are naturally gifted.  Such people come specially endowed to do some amazing things including being the best performers, leaders and team players. The implication of this thinking is that this only applies to the few. This appears to be the mindset of the CIPD [the Chartered Institute for Personnel Development] who state in their factsheet on Talent Management (August 2012) that ‘talent consists of those individuals who can make a difference in organisational performance either through their immediate contribution or, in the longer term by demonstrating the highest levels of potential’. They go onto say that ‘talent management is the systematic attraction, identification, development, engagement, retention and deployment of those individuals who are of particular value to an organisation’.  The CIPD are not alone in this approach.

On the surface this appears an absolutely sensible approach as organisations often task HR to attempt to get the right people in the right place at the right time to deliver the business imperatives. Identifying those people with the right ‘talents’ for an organisation would make sense and should lead to success.  But how do we identify talent, and what exactly are we talking about? There are many psychometrics tests in the market all purporting to identify various different aspects of each of us including:

  • our personality
  • competency profiling
  • how we think
  • our strengths
  • our ability to lead
  • or ability to make decisions and how fast, and so on

Some of them may even have a predictable element. But can they identify a contextual behaviour like talent?

Some of these tests date back to theories from over 100 years ago, whilst others are based on more recent research from the world of neuroscience.  But how useful are they actually in identifying and predicting talented behaviour or capability before the individual has been put into the situation where their talent could or might make a difference?  How do these approaches differentiate between ambition and talent or potential capability in future situations?  Have they proved effective in identifying talented people to match an organisation’s aspirations at a time when the search for talent is supposed to becoming more difficult?

If we do not really understand what talents are and where they come from, and how to measure their potential, this leads to the question: ‘are we once again heading in the wrong direction?’  We ask this because recently the CIPD produced a press release in which they announced that “the days of sheep-dip leadership and management training are now definitely over”. Once again it has been known for decades (Alliger and Janak, 1989) that the link between learning and changes in attitude and behaviours leading to tangible results is poor. In fact the CIPD suggested in 2007 that such positive correlations were no more than random chance.

If the link between learning and business results is poor what are the implications for pursuing talent if we do not fully understand and agree what talent is?  And more interestingly, what are the consequences for those of us who are deemed to be untalented by default of being below what may be an arbitrary line?  What impact will such categorisation have on already low, staff engagement?  How will managers and staff react to being passed over for a talented member of their team? Are we using a poorly-articulated idea to put in place something that will have devastating consequences on people, business and performance in the future, where the talented become loaded with carrying an increasingly disengaged and apparently untalented majority?  We have already seen the devastating impact of low educational expectations in our society, and we have to question whether our businesses can compete with a similar self-administered weakness in a global competitive economy.

Naturally Talented ?

One of the problems with pursuing ‘talent’ is the belief by many that talents are innate, that they have a genetic origin which a few lucky people possess, or that they are possessed by those who ‘survive’ testing.  Many dictionaries refer to talent as ‘any natural ability or power’ but such a definition lacks substance and appears to lead to many of us assuming that only a few people have it. This seems to imply that the remainder of us may struggle through life as the victims of our genes which do not quite come up to the mark for the highly-demanding environment in which we live today.

One is reminded of how IQ testing regimes were applied without the results being qualified in terms of the limitations of what the test could actually test. Alfred Binet who first introduced the IQ test, which forms the basis of that used today, did not believe that the psychometric instrument could be used to measure a single, permanent and inborn (genetic) level of intelligence. He stressed the limitation of the test suggesting that intelligence is far too broad a concept to quantify with a single number. How many people over the years have been graded wrongly in our educational system because of the IQ test? What impact has that had for the rest of their lives? Are we going to repeat this mistake with the focus on talent?

Today, we know that in all we do whilst our genes have a part to play, what makes the difference is the focused effort that we can dedicate to get better at something through practice over time.  Dr Anders Ericsson suggests that it takes 10,000 hours or 10 years to become an expert using deliberate practice in almost anything and, although the time it takes is disputed by others, the fact remains that people can become good or even great when dedicating themselves to putting in consistent, focused effort. That does not mean we can all become Olympic athletes or concert pianists capable of performing on a world stage but it does mean that we all have innate abilities to become good at something, if or when we choose.

What stops us choosing?

We make sense of not doing something and then explaining to ourselves all the reasons why we did it. We only have to convince ourselves because it’s our choice. What does and will stop us from taking any action is the belief that we do not possess the necessary gene or combination of genes that may manifest themselves as ‘natural’ talents.  We all come with the innate ability to do some amazing things unfortunately many of us simply do not try because it does take effort or, as often are the case, social attitudes for conformity and avoiding public recognition are strong. The famous 1920s Hawthorne Experiment noted that factory workers ostracised not only those whose performance was mediocre, but equally those whose performance was outstanding. For example, we are all genetically and therefore anatomically designed to be long distance runners; it was how we survived hostile environment in the past.  Yet how many of us use this innate asset?  Do we all run to work?  We all have the capacity to learn, to be curious and to be imaginative. Unfortunately many of us use our imagination to dream up worst-case scenarios or construct narratives and beliefs that we cannot do things because we are simply not ‘talented’ so we do not try.

The Magic Gene

Finally on genes; there is no magic gene. Science informs us that we do not have a specific gene for specific functions but that a range of genes are switched on in response to environmental factors when we have to do things. It is this combination and the ability to construct new patterns in our brains in response to new challenges that enables us to perform new tasks and with focused practice, demonstrate new ‘talent’.    Professor Elizabeth Gould’s work in the field of neurogenesis found that with use the brain produces new neurones and an example of this involving London cabbies’ was reported on in 2006 by Eleanor Maguire and others. Using fMRI scans they showed that humans have an amazing capacity to acquire increased spatial awareness and navigational attributes through practice and experience. They discovered that relevant parts of the cabbies brain had grown enabling them to navigate around the complexity of London’s streets without the aid of a satnav. This reinforces the key message that we can all develop new ‘talents’ or strengths through focused effort.

Fear of Failure – Beliefs

Our beliefs are very powerful. How often, if ever do we test them? At a recent presentation a participant said that she lacked the talent needed to catch a ball. She had tried ball catching and could not do it. She was handed a pen and asked to touch the end of it which she did with ease so her hand-eye capability was fine. The pen was gently thrown towards her and she caught it effortlessly. But when a ball was produced for her to catch she said she couldn’t do it and simply refused to participate.  Of course she could catch a ball, but her belief in failure was so deeply embedded in her personal identity that she avoided the challenge.  How many of us do this at work when faced with new challenges?  Is the real ‘talent’ issue that we need to plan to focus on the supposedly un-talented as well and help them overcome the personal and social conditioning that is the basis of learnt, un-talented behaviours? Is it beliefs rather than talents which impact on what we do and how well we do it?

If we accept that our genes do have a part to play in what and how we do whatever it happens to be, then we need to learn to focus on using our innate assets to improve our capability in different areas. Organisations would benefit from their whole work force growing and developing and not just the ‘talented’; those who appear to tick a box at a particular moment in time or by using a formulaic test whose limitations are never explored or applied to the results. Aviva seem to think so as they applied the simple principle of – the rising tide lifts all boats. Nature sometimes has a way of telling us things.


According to Arvinder S Dhesi (2007) Aviva have an inclusive approach to talent which involves all employees and not just the selected few. He states ‘that the biggest mistake organisations make in talent management is the seemingly relentless focus on the selected few. Most companies believe and act as though talent is a scarce commodity and typically use the term to describe a tiny minority of their workforce’.

If you want to disengage your workforce simply go down the route of identifying those few people who display the ‘talents’ you are currently looking for or anticipate you will need in the future. The consequences of doing so are immense as disengagement is one of the biggest blockers to business growth. There is only one result as the majority of people will adopt a passive (can’t do) or sometimes active (won’t do) form of disengagement which significantly reduces performance and productivity, turning them into more of a liability than an asset.

No purpose, no passion, no engagement

Find the purpose and you’ll be on the road to success. We are all capable of far more that we believe or imagine, we just have to put the focused effort in. Of course, this leads to the real crux of the matter, ‘Why should I?’ If organisations are locked into ensuring systematic and linear processes relating to people development are in place, where is the passion so why bother? If you are involved in a selected talent based approach beware as it may disengage the majority with a potential outcome of constant battles between the untalented and those special cases.


What will it cost your organisation to play the selected talent game? Can you afford it?

At Mind Fit we focus on understanding the business needs and targets together with the attitudes and behaviours that deliver them. We ensure that the organisation has identified its real purpose, one that once articulated, inspires people to act. If people are valued as people, with the potential to deliver what is needed to grow the business, then they will step up to the mark and perform. It really is that simple. Or that difficult.



Written by : Graham Williams & Prof Victor Newman