Motivation: The Art of Changing Behavior (part 1)

Psychologist David McClelland identified 3 things that motivate human behavior: 1) affiliation with people that leads to support and validation; 2) achievement and the satisfaction of success; and 3) influence over other people including control.

Every individual has some or all of the above three motivators working to reinforce their behavior. Combinations of the three can be stratified as primary and secondary. For example, in the context of the workplace, an individual might have influence as their  primary motivator and achievement as a secondary motivator. Awareness of your own motivators and those around you is important.

Self-awareness will help you to chart a proper course towards a role or organization that values and reinforces your deepest level of  motivation. Awareness of what motivates members of your team is about knowing what the carrot and stick looks like to them.

In my next post, I’ll add some more detail to the metaphor of  the carrot and stick.

Optimism & Performance – Part 2

The WatchAn employee’s performance is a function of the business process and employee attitude.  Therefore, if you are looking to bring about a change in performance apart from a process change,  as a leader, you should consider tapping into the mediating benefits of optimism.

Optimism is a general sense of confidence or lack of doubt. It is a pattern of thinking about oneself and the world. It’s exemplified in the dispositional attitude to expect the most favorable outcomes or an optimistic bias that more good and fewer bad things will occur.

Although research suggest that optimism is stable over time, optimist and pessimist are not distinct groupings. People fall in a range from very optimistic to very pessimistic and levels of both vary with time and situation for all of us. I might be optimistic about my career potential after graduating from college and with time and with incremental life changes  (marriage and divorce) become pessimistic. Research on depression suggest that the journey from optimist to pessimist depends on a persons explanatory style.

Explanatory Style Model
Explanatory Style - Model

How an employee chooses to explain or view the cause of events in the past will affect their level of optimism and motivation to persist.

An employee who believes the forces that cause an event to be stable will expect bad outcomes. However, if they believe the cause  of an event to be unstable, then their outlook may be more optimistic.

In addition to the nature of the forces driving an event, an individual’s  expectation is affected by their view of the magnitude or scope of past failures. For example, an individual might view their poor interpersonal ability as being part and parcel of their personality (global scope) or  as a result of perceived insults (specific).

Two researchers, Carver and Scheirer,  suggest that if we can identify specific reasons for past failures our outlook for the future will be brighter.

In general, the typical pessimistic explanatory style for bad outcomes are as follows:
1. forces are stable and the scope is specific (quadrant 3)
“I don’t have the ability to be patient on the phone.”

2. forces are unstable and the scope is global (quadrant 2) –
“I do this all the time”

Because an employee’s performance is a function of the business process and their attitude, in bringing about a change in performance  one should engage the mediating benefits of optimism.

For example an employee might be atrocious in the area of customer service. High need customers invariably leave their presence in tears. Before negotiating a change in behavioral skills, first deal with the cognitive component.

The key to tapping into optimism is to help the employee interpret the cause or causes in terms of  the characteristics of quadrant 4  of the explanatory model. In quadrant 4, forces are unstable and the scope is specific. Quadrant 4 represents the optimistic explanatory style.

Research suggest that people who attribute setbacks to stable and global factors are more likely to experience pessimism and helplessness following a negative event. After some discussion with the the individual, you discover that the employee’s eplanatory style falls into quadrant 1, stable forces with a global scope.

A stable and global explanation for poor customer service might be: “It’s just me. I can’t suffer fools. I become abrupt and shut people down.”

During a performance review, be prepared to identify negative interpretations and evaluate these interpretations by thoughtfully considering alternatives and evidence that falls within quadrant 4.  From our example, perhaps poor customer service has nothing to do with the employee’s self- identified trait of impatience with people, but when information has to be repeated twice. The scope is now specific.

The next step would involve exploring the forces that lead to information having to be repeated twice, such as speech rate, the lack of wait time, or improper “chunking” of information. The forces are now unstable and malleable.

In the heat of the moment a seemingly catastrophic setback or really bad performance is often, with some thoughtful deliberation, affected by factors that are changeable or transient.

Now that you’ve dealt with the cognitive component, the stage is set for exploring behavioral skills such as relaxation, assertiveness, or breaking large pieces of information into manageable chunks for improved communication with customers.

By shifting the scope and forces to specific and unstable cuases, we have set the condition for optimism to mediate a boost in motivation to perform.



Carver, Charles S., Scheier, Michael (2003).  Positive psychological assessment: A handbook of models and measures. Lopez, Shane J. (Ed.); Snyder, C. R. (Ed.); Washington, DC, US: American Psychological Association,  pp. 75-89.

Optimism & Performance – Part 1

Have you ever been on the receiving end of a bad performance review? I have.

During my days as a junior trader for a large Multi-national bank, a new manager, who wanted to stir things up, decided that everyone in the department should be given a failing grade on their performance review. He took a hammer where a fine chisel was needed and necessary.

The manager’s intentions were good, but his methods lacked a clear understanding of how to motivate change. Being told that you are worthless makes for good entertainment, but bad management.

According to Martin E.P. Seligman, the father of positive psychology, the key to immunizing an employee against helplessness, depression, anxiety and giving up after failure is optimism.

Optimism is a pattern of thinking about oneself and the world. It’s exemplified in the dispositional attitude to expect the most favorable outcomes or an optimistic bias that more good and fewer bad things will occur. The classical question used to separate optimist from pessimist is: “Is the glass half-full or half-empty?”

tumblr_lhtnv4tAy21qe7vz2o1_500-150x150We all have the ability to use social and cognitive filters to interpret and position past experiences into a more favorable future outlook. Ideally, the future outlook is framed within the boundaries of reasonableness.

Two researchers, Scheier & Carver (1992) found that people with low levels of optimism, or high pessimism tend to cope with distress by disengaging from social situations (avoidance) and denial. Two other researchers, Carver & Gaines (1987) found that persons high in optimism were more likely to engage in efforts to manage the issues causing stress.

An employee’s performance is a function of an appropriate business process and employee attitude. Therefore, if you are looking to bring about a change in performance, then as a manager you should consider tapping into the mediating benefits of optimism.

In my next post, I’ll speak to how one should integrate optimism into the performance review process.



Carver, C.s., & Gaines, J.G. (1987). Optimism, pessimism and postpartum depression. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 11, 449-462.

Scheier, M. F., & Carver, C.S. (1992). Effects of optimism on psychological and physical well-being: Theoretical overview and empirical update. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 16(2), 201-228.

Human Latency Part 1

I’m not a fan of buzz words.  However, I like ideas and words that help managers tackle the hard problems with respect to meeting customer needs.

In a price driven business environment, managers must match their cost structure with client expectations. Yet, cost reduction programs can only do so much to enhance your company’s value proposition.

trumpetBusiness process efficiency, as Art Rosenberg put it, “is quickly moving up the ROI food chain for business organizations.”  One construct that is gaining some attention is  human latency.

Philip Howard, Research Director at Bloor Research states that there are two parts to human latency: finding information and arranging collaboration. In a team based culture,  both aspects are like Siamese twins, where one goes the other must follow. I won’t elaborate on the imagery.

Some argue that human latency can be eliminated if a decision or business process is purely quantitative. For example, where price is an issue, choose the lowest cost shipping channel. However not all decision can be distilled to a pure “quant” level.

If their is an element of needed subjectivity and the decision is being made in a collaborative environment, then finding information can often mean finding the right individuals, or simply finding the person period. The concept of “Unified Communication” promises to improve human interaction and reduce latency.

I believe the promise and sense that many organizations will not reap the benefits without taking into account their company culture.

As an aside, the other day I stumbled on a chart produced by Gartner that rates technology centered solution providers on two dimensions: vision and execution. I’ve included it below more as a teaser than focal point for any discussion.

Gartner RAS Core Research Note G00160407
Gartner RAS Core Research Note G00160407

I’m sure that many of you reading this blog post have had interesting experiences with the implimentation of  innovation. I like the grid  because it lends itself to idea that leading change involves vision and execution.

Before rushing to embrace any business process change, managers must ask hard questions about their organization’s culture and commitment to training. Culture can torpedo a great vision, or process improvement.  A culture that does not value training, may fail to gain maximum benefits. In my next post on the subject I’ll talk about ways to help individuals connect with and embrace changes to business process.

Charles L. Gordon