The world of motivational speaking seems to always involve loud music, fist pumping and single-sentence chants like “You can do it” or “If you can dream it you can achieve it.” But if Dr Jason Fox had his way, all that fluff would be left behind in favour of setting realistic and reachable goals that make it easier to track progress.
Fox, a motivation strategy and design expert, spoke this past week at AHRI Breakfast Club events about what HR professionals and businesses can do to cut that smart-goal-setting cord. According to him, employers and employees need to deliberately think about what changes they need to make in order to find better, and more useful, answers to problems at work.
“Default thinking exists; that pattern recognition lets us learn, codify and make cognitive shortcuts,” Fox says. “However, in motivation some clichés don’t work very well.”
These cycles of default goal setting and problem solving become the Kraken of Doom – a term he coined to highlight what happens when we forget to think. This kraken feeds on irrelevancy and rears its ugly head when we fall back on standard approaches.
“If you have people who are perpetually content, it leads to comfort, which leads to complacency,” he says. “That leads to irrelevancy.”
Like anything in this world, motivation at work has a cause-and-effect relationship with employee behaviour. Fox asked attendees to choose what they think motivates workers the most. Turns out, it’s a clear sense of progress, which is not consistent with what employers think motivates their staff.
Fox says this disconnect between leadership and employees is because it is easy to become fixated on distant goals rather than small successes. He advocates for reduced latency between employee work and feedback; a business gets better at creativity if there is visibility of progress on things that really matter.
He wrapped up the event with some practical ways HR professionals and businesses can set better goals and work towards achieving them.
- Think in terms of contextual momentum: The closer events are to the present, the more specific you need to be about what you hope to achieve. Daily and weekly goals help with assessment and traction, while monthly and quarterly goals serve to show improvement.
- Pick one word to serve as a contextual marker for the rest of the year: Fox’s choice for the year ahead was pirate, which, according to him, has less to do with swashbuckling and more to do with not being afraid to say yes and take what he wants.
- Ask yourself, “What are the projects that matter?”: Pick three projects that have deliverability … and then prepare to fail 50 per cent of them.
Ideally, all of these steps combine to extend the plateau of personal and professional productivity.
“The opposite of success is not failure – it’s apathy,” he says. “In science, there is no such thing as failure, only disproving hypotheses. We need to destigmatise failure because that’s the way to make sure we are always learning something.”
Dr Fox has made a recording of his AHRI Breakfast Club session ‘The science of motivation’ available for purchase. To find out more contact email@example.com