We have found that ALL attempts at motivation involve either Understanding Conversations or Performance Conversations, or some combination of the two. When you think about it, that’s really remarkable. No matter what you are trying to get done, or whom you are trying to get to do it, every single attempt at motivation we have studied involves only these two different types of conversations.
Understanding Conversations pertain to all attempts to have people “see”, “understand”, “realize” or “appreciate” what we need from them. Of course, we usually hope they will then feel compelled to take action. How many times have you explained why something was important to get done? Or described a task or project so that people would really “get” what it was about? Sometimes, people hop right to work on it, sometimes not at all.
The trick with Understanding Conversations is that you usually have to take that explanation one step further and have an actual dialogue, i.e., you have to listen to what they say about it and include their input into the discussion. They may have questions about how – or why – to do it. They may tell you they don’t have time, or suggest alternative ways to get parts of it done, or give you any number of other kinds of feedback on your explanation. Dialogue rules here, even when it gets complicated, emotional, or seems to take too long.
Performance Conversations go right to the bottom line and make a request: “Will you do this by Wednesday afternoon?” “Will you be able to get this into your calendar this week?” No hinting and no emotional states – just ask for what you want them to do or deliver.
Then close the deal by confirming that they have agreed to do it: “So you will have it to me before 5 PM on Wednesday, right?” “So you will get this finished – and let me know that it’s done – before you leave work on Friday?”
These two pieces – your request and their acceptance of an agreement – constitute their promise for performance. It could be an agreement to deliver a product, service, or communication by a specified time. Or it could be that a particular task will be completed, but even if it was just an agreement to “do something”, you make it clear that you want to be notified when it is finished. That “closing deliverable” makes the agreement visible and observable to everyone involved.
A Performance Conversation can be as simple as this: “Here’s what I’d like you to do: Have the report on my desk by 5 PM Thursday. Will you do that?” If they accept, you have an agreement for performance. If they decline, you’ll need to go back to having an Understanding Conversation, i.e., renegotiate, or find someone else to do the job.
It doesn’t sound much like “motivation” does it? That’s because you are explaining what, exactly, you want done and by when, then asking them to do it, then getting an agreement for a result. At its heart, there is no rah-rah about it. You can dress it up if you like – you know your people and whether you need to add other ingredients. Sometimes it helps to add praise, more precision, or just something to make it friendlier and respectful of their current obligations. But not always. Some people prefer to just “Git ‘er Done” without the rah-rah.