Our motives and the motives of others are not as different as we may think. Here’s a bit of executive coaching on how to better understand how to motivate others… as well as find out why lawyers become lawyers.
Why do lawyers become lawyers? Based on all the lawyer jokes out there, and there are a LOT of them, I’m sure you can fill in a couple of reasons in your head… We all have guesses about what motivates others.
But what if you actually ask people who are thinking of becoming lawyers. In 1995, a group of 486 prospective lawyers (i.e. college grads studying for LSAT entrance exams) was asked to describe their motives for going to law school. Their response:
64% said they were pursuing a legal career because it was intellectually appealing or because they had always been interested in law.
Now here comes the interesting part…
When asked why their peers were studying law, 62% speculated that their peers were studying law for the financial rewards.
In fact, only 12% thought their peers were pursuing law for the same reasons they were.
(Chip Heath, The Journal of Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Process, 1999)
What does this demonstrate?
The Extrinsic Incentives Bias: the tendency to believe that others are motivated by external factors, while we are motivated by intrinsic factors.
This mistake is evident in all sorts of other domains. Another study was done at Citibank, which asked people to identify what motivates them in the workplace. Their response:
Feeling good about myself
Accomplishing something worthwhile
Learning new things
And what did they believe motivated their peers, bosses and subordinates?
Amount of pay
Quality of benefits
Once again, the extrinsic incentives bias appears: people tend to believe that others are motivated extrinsically.
This error leads to all sorts of frustration and mistakes on behalf of managers. Perhaps you’ve been in one of those, “how do we raise employee morale” type meetings.
Casual Fridays, Aloha shirt Wednesdays, cash bonuses, increasing salaries, and all sorts of other ideas are usually suggested… and none of them work.
It isn’t to say that people don’t like casual Friday or more money, but it isn’t what motivates them on the job. In fact, most people have no idea how to motivate others.
One of my favorite studies is from Frederick Herzberg’s bestselling Harvard Business Review article, “One More Time: How Do You Motivate Employees,” which I think is one of the best articles around on how to motivate others.
In the article Herzberg discusses research done on 1,685 employees across a variety of roles, industries, positions and ranks. He asked participants in the study to identify events or factors that led to extreme satisfaction or extreme dissatisfaction in the workplace.
What did he find motivates employees?
- Achievement (42%)
- Recognition (30%)
- Work Itself (23%)
- Responsibility (20%)
- Advancement (12%)
(Percentages indicate frequency the motivators were mentioned.)
So, what’s the takeaway? You aren’t going to solve morale problems with Aloha shirt Wednesdays, nor with big bonuses. Instead, if you want to motivate others you need to create the right type of work environment so that people can achieve and be recognized for it.
By the way, in case you are wondering what causes extreme dissatisfaction, here are the top items:
What causes dissatisfaction:
- Company Policy and Administration (35%)
- Supervision (20%)
- Relationship with Supervisor (12%)
- Work Conditions (10%)
- Salary (8%)
So there you have it. Well intentioned but foolish policies are the number one cause of dissatisfaction.
Herzberg’s article doesn’t say this, but if I had to guess I would bet that most of those policies seriously undermine employees autonomy and ability to think for themselves.
How do you apply this research to your workplace? Here are a few ideas on how to motivate others in the workplace:
- Give people ways to achieve and measure it.
- Ensure that what you measure is aligned with firm goals and values.
- When people achieve goals, acknowledge it.
- Share positive feedback from clients and other stakeholders.
- Always be sincere in your feedback.
- Try to link the person’s role with a higher purpose.
- Give staff broader levels of responsibility. (See blog: How to get in the zone)
- Provide opportunities for advancement in title, role, responsibility, education, etc.
In conclusion, why do lawyers become lawyers? For all the right reasons… the rest of us just need to remember that. And if we want to motivate others, we need to take a moment and think about what motivates us. We are more similar to our peers than we think.
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