The Myth of Motivation

Myth

By Tom Fedro

I’ve been fortunate to experience a great many exciting business environments, and it’s been very interesting to watch how approaches to business have changed and then changed back and then changed again.  I’ve seen buzzwords praised and condemned and been through all of the big and sweeping business philosophies.  I’ve seen six sigma, management by objective, one minute management, team management and more.  It can get crazy, but I’ve come to the conclusion that we’re really looking at one thing and one thing alone, people.

Think about that for a minute and then consider the departments in your organization.  When you think “sales” you’re probably putting a face or a name to the thought.  When you think “IT” you’re doing the same.  No matter how much we try to program things in a way that lets us avoid it, the reality is that people do the work of your company and people make the difference between success and failure.  So naturally, we all try to figure out how we can motivate people to do their jobs in a way that builds our success, right?

Here’s the problem.  Motivation is a myth.  More accurately, “motivating,” is a myth.  I remember one of the most significant things I learned when studying Dr. W. Edwards Deming.  (He’s often considered the father of Total Quality Management.) He made a comment in answer to a question and said, “Everyone is already doing his best.”  He went on to explain that best efforts, to have any value, need direction.  How often do we spend our time trying to get our employees to be excited about their work instead of making sure they have all of the information and tools necessary to get it done?  Really, if your employees need constant urging to do the work, should you reconsider how you hire them?

I believe everyone wants to take pride in his or her work.  I don’t think anyone wakes up in the morning and thinks How can I get away with drawing a paycheck while accomplishing nothing.  Maybe I’m wrong, but I know I’d never hire anyone with that attitude and wouldn’t keep anyone with that attitude on staff.  Here’s the scary thing though… do I encourage those kinds of thoughts by making assumptions my employees won’t do their job if I’m not right there offering a constant stream of extrinsic incentives?  Am I frustrating the desire to succeed right out of my staff when I cheer them on, exhort them to put in that extra effort, and beg them for superhuman dedication?  If I’m more focused on their willingness to perform than I am on their ability to perform, I think that’s the result.

I’m not saying there isn’t a time and place for a pat on the back and encouragement.  I am saying that it’s time we had enough faith in our employees to believe they actually WANT to succeed and to make sure they have the tools necessary to do so.  What good is getting them excited when they don’t have what it takes to deliver, right?

The New Funnel

funnel2

By Tom Fedro

I remember back in elementary school (okay, vaguely—but no jokes about how long ago that was, please) when I first learned about converting measurements.  Back then, we’d spend forever turning inches into feet, feet into yards, cups into pints, pints into quarts and every other measurement of volume, distance, and time into other measurements of volume, distance and time.  Then things got crazy when we had to learn how to change centimeters into meters, milliliters into liters, and so on.  Want to drive a kid insane?  No problem.  Add in converting from standard measurements to metric system measurements.  I remember a test in which we had to measure various shapes in order to discover their area.  We had to be careful to use the correct ruler (some of us, the correct side of the ruler) so we measured in the right system.  If you measured correctly, you got good marks.  If you tried to use a standard ruler for a metric question, you failed.  If you didn’t use the correct formula for determining the area of a square, you failed.

Well, you probably know by now that I’m not just reminiscing.  I belong to about twenty news feeds too many, and on one of them, a marketing piece popped up.  With my background in marketing, sales, and business development strategy, it’s hard for me to pass up on clicking on a title that involves marketing.  This particular post declared that the funnel model of marketing is dead.  That’s right.  Dead.  Not in trouble, not sick.  It’s dead.  I read with interest, and I’m always amazed at how quickly business experts move to declare the end of something.  You see, I don’t think the funnel is dead at all.  I think it’s just been converted. A short while ago it was liters, and now it’s gallons, or something like that. Just as a European in the United States has to put some thought into distances expressed in miles before beginning a journey, marketing executives now have to put some thought into how they measure marketing effects and a customer’s journey into the funnel.

The funnel represents a fairly clear understanding of the path from a potential customer to an actual customer, but the AIDA (Awareness, Interest, Decision, Action) process is no longer influenced in the same manner it was a few decades ago or even one decade ago.  I find it interesting that so many marketing experts are ready to throw away the model instead of learning new ways to understand and influence customers within the various stages.  Certainly, there are new factors to consider that might give us four or five different kinds of prospects in the Interest or Decision stage, but realistically, they’re still in that stage, right?  Has all of humanity changed into something else or have people instead changed the way they gather and act on data?  I think it’s the latter, and I think marketing professionals have to start thinking about the funnel in a different light, but I’m not ready to say it’s not a funnel just because I have to measure it with a different ruler.

Predictions and Postulations

Lightbulb

By Tom Fedro

Have you ever watched a television show or a movie from your youth and just sat astounded at the way everything in the show doesn’t mesh with today’s world?  I’m not just talking about the emotional or political aspects of it.  Sure, when Ricky Ricardo gives Lucy a spanking, our eyes get wide and we shake our head about how different our world is now; but I mean the way technology has become such an integrated part of our life that things just seem off when it’s not part of the equation.  There’s something about watching a police officer put a quarter in a pay phone or a detective open up a phone book that seems strange.  I catch myself wondering why Starsky doesn’t just call Hutch on his cell phone!

Nobody in the 1980s could have predicted the way things have progressed.  Sure, Alvin Toffler was pretty close when he wrote The Third Wave and announced the end of the industrial age and the beginning of the information age, but even Toffler’s genius didn’t anticipate the completely wired-in (or wireless for that matter) access to…well, to just about everything.  In fact, while the beginnings of the information age focused on technology—Can we do it?—the new focus is on service based delivery of functionality and information.  Content is king in ways never imagined before, and this means that opportunities have really shifted from pretty buttons to secure methods of storing, transferring, and accessing data.

With every major company trying to get in on the Cloud in one way or another, predictions explode from tech pundits like one of Lucy’s cooking experiments gone wrong.  How many of these predictions will go the way of the flying car or the teleportation device?  There’s no way to tell, really, because so much of what we get in the world of technology is driven by market forces that are fickle.  One thing I believe is certain, though, is that we have to interpret technology based on trends we anticipate for the future.  Twenty-five years ago, we couldn’t have anticipated (absent sheer genius) the social media explosion, the complete mobile revolution, or the trend toward instant access, but the one thing that we could have and should have anticipated is the reliance on data and its complete takeover of our daily lives.

Someday, our kids will watch television shows and movies from our time and wonder why the hero doesn’t hop in his flying car or simply order up a logical answer to the dilemma or something else that seems impossible now.  Who knows what technology will be standard in thirty years.  I’m willing to bet, though, that at its core it will deal with information and access to it.

 

Passion Is Overrated

passion

By Tom Fedro

What?  Can I really write this post?  I’m all about business and startups and suggest that the driving force of a multitude of entrepreneurs isn’t as important as every other blog on this subject suggests?  What of all the stories?  What of all the movies?  What about all the inspirational books and the men and women just about to give up but hanging on because they accessed deep within themselves that last vestige of hope and passion that kept them motivated against all odds.

It makes for good storytelling, but I have to tell you that I’ve been in more than one startup.  I’ve advised in more than one startup, and I’ve seen countless pitches from founders.  I’ve spent my career focusing on startups.  I’ve yet to find a single founder of a startup who wasn’t consumed by passion.  Why in the world would anyone put in the kind of effort and sacrifice necessary to start a new venture if there wasn’t passion?  Everyone has it.  Everyone in this arena, anyway.

The bottom line is this.  According to studies (and there seem to be a million of them) the failure rate for startups is staggering.  Low estimates put it at about eighty percent, some suggest the rate is ninety-two percent.  That means your brilliant new business has about an eight percent chance of success, no matter how passionate you are.  In fact, there’s a good chance your passion, if not reined in, will be your undoing.

The Genome Project’s study of 3200 startups concluded that the number one reason for failure is self-destruction, primarily through premature scaling.  In other words, passion makes us grow too quickly and get ahead of ourselves.  Things get crazy and our dreams become nightmares.  Our incredible idea is so incredible that we implement it faster than it can actually succeed, and the net result is failure.

I’m not suggesting passion isn’t important.  I’m just trying to tell you that everyone attempting to start a business probably already has it.  Don’t work on motivating yourself in this area.  Don’t focus on the passion, focus on the business.  Make good, fundamental business decisions.  Those are the decisions that may seem dispassionate or even appear to show a lack of confidence in the idea about which you’re so passionate.  Don’t worry about that.  You worry about whether or not you’ll be one the eight percent that make it.