CEO Shoptalk: Motivation v Inspiration

One of the current topics in the scrum discussion about leadership in the job environment at the C-suite level is the issue of motivation v inspiration. It is a nuanced discussion and it is tied into our current cultural metamorphosis in the workplace including such things as Work From Home v office work.

What exactly is the difference between motivation and inspiration, Big Red Car?

Good question as it is always useful to define the terms of the discussion. Remember we are talking about the workplace. You may be tempted to believe they are the same thing — are they?

In general, social scientists, workplace gurus, CEO coaches, CEOs, and employees use the following frame of reference:

Motivation is an external force that persuades employees to achieve certain specific goals imposed by the organization while inspiration is an internal force that compels employee action based on a worker’s individual feelings and values.

At first blush, one can see the difference, but it is really not that simple.

How did you do it when you were a CEO, Big Red Car?

As an employer for decades, I saw my mission thusly:

It is my job to provide a clear vision and a plan within a stable work environment in which you can do your best work and I will, in turn, reward excellence.

I have also espoused the idea that people work for compensation, ego enrichment, and self-esteem nourishment. As a leader you have to pay well, recognize performance, and administer a robust performance appraisal system that routinely rewards excellence.

You will get more of whatever behaviors you reward. 

Is this measurable, Big Red Car?

Yes and no.

You can look at retention rates and the ability to recruit as objective measures of effective leadership, but they may not correlate solely with motivation or inspiration.

You can conduct an Anonymous Company Survey — something I used to do routinely and something I heartily recommend — and evaluate the results over a period of time.

Anonymous Company Survey

Chat me up, Big Red Car

OK, here is the practical way this works in the marketplace today:

 1. You still have to provide a work environment in which you create a workplace in which the individual employee can excel and you have to reward that excellence. Old School is still good school.

 2. You have to know your work force and understand what motivates and inspires them. I am not selling out to running a business based on everybody being “inspired” or becoming a slave to “feelings.”

I am saying you have to know what does inspire your work force and you have to fold it into the mix.

I, for decades, used to give the entire company off during the time period of Christmas to New Years. I never told the company I was going to give it off to them — not charged against vacation. I would often deny I was going to “do it this year.”

It was the best received benefit I ever offered. Because it was unexpected, it was not filled to overflowing with driving to Grandma’s house and sapped of its energy by the turmoil of the season.

I did it for a very precise business reason — nobody used to do any work between Christmas and New Years. It had zero impact on the company. I used to use the time to do planning in my quiet office. It was a bloody bonanza to me.

 3. You have to hire wherein your motivation and the employee’s inspiration are parallel and in concert rather than conflict. If you are an oil company, do not hire environmental activists. Seems obvious, no?

It all starts with skillful hiring.

 4. Run a damn good performance appraisal system which means you have to have a disciplined approach to goal setting and accountability that is woven into the performance appraisal system. I cannot tell you how many faddish performance appraisal systems I have seen that crumbled into dust after the first year.

For the love of God, make your objectives, performance appraisal, and comp review a seamless continuum based solely on performance.

  5. Create a rewards system — the military gives you colored ribbons to go in harms way — to deliver tangible evidence of excellence and use it liberally.

 6. You must train the talent and the inspiration along the lines of the business. You can literally draft athletes and train them to play the positions you want them to play. You will have to have a damn solid training program.

I have seen almost zero startups with credible training programs.

I used to hire the top female finance grads from the University of Texas — all the guys went to Wall Street and some of the women went to work for me. I trained them as accountants, property managers, and leasing agents.

We held our training sessions at 7:00 AM on Thursday mornings and we ground through what they needed to know. I also used to provide golf lessons and personal defense classes as well as sending the property managers to a modestly expensive training course.

This was fun, but I had a hard headed business objective: a lot of the real estate business networking operated on the golf course and nobody liked playing golf if they were bad and women taking self-defense courses became wildly confident in themselves.

This was a quarter of a century ago long before any of this was vogue.

Bottom line it, Big Red Car

Lots of people think they have discovered that motivation and inspiration are different, but if you’ve been a leader, an effective leader, you’ve been working both sides of the street for a long time. Do not buy into the idea it is “one-or-the-other” when it is “both-and.”

Do not sell out to either side, but use some of each to accomplish your vision.

But, hey, what the Hell do I really know anyway? I’m just a Big Red Car!