Just Try and Make Me

This blog entry from Peter Bergen on the Harvard Business Review site contains a fascinating story that, at first, appears to be about good deeds. I suggest you read through the entry before we go on. 

(Okay, I know some of you are cheating and continuing to read before checking the blog. You’ll just have to live with yourselves.)
There’s a lot going on in this write up. But Bergen takes this story of a driver’s apparent indifference and goes a different direction than we expect. Rather than talking about humanity vs. callousness, he talks about motivation. He asks a question we all struggle with – what is it that motivates people?
Now, drawing with too broad a brush on a topic like motivation can get any of us into trouble. (For example, we all learned that money is not a motivator; it is a demotivator. However, I have a good friend who is the only person I have ever met who is truly, completely, and utterly driven by dollars. Not in a negative way – he has a very solid moral compass. But, if you want him to work hard, just pay him the appropriate amount. Titles, awards, trinkets, adulation do nothing for him. He just wants to be paid.) But, Bergen hits on a fundamentally important aspect of motivation; how each of us defines ourselves drives our motivation.
One of the startling pieces of information he presents is the result of a study in which a mundane task was being performed. It was discovered that (not surprisingly), the less people were paid, the less successful they were in performing the task. However, the shocking part was that those individuals who were paid absolutely nothing performed the task more successfully than the highest paid individuals. The power of altruism over capitalism. (Again, to understand the context, you should read the blog.) 
Which all leads to the major revelation: tapping into people’s motivation is all about tapping into the story they are telling about themselves. You see, each of us is the star of our own movie. And, in the showing of that movie, we have a perception of that star. For example, some of those stars are altruists; some are capitalists. For us to be motivated toward action, we must see that the action matches the story we want to tell.
There are three lessons for us as auditors:
  1. We must understand the story that each of our auditees tells about themselves. If the star of the Sales Manager’s movie is someone who makes the sale and shatters every quota set, then our approach to motivation must tap into him shattering those quotas.
  1. Any of us who are in a supervisory role (manager, VP, AIC) must understand the story each of our auditors tells about themselves. If the star of the auditor’s movie is an individual who gets every detail correct, then we have to tap into that in such a way that the auditor’s “perfection” is achieved without sacrificing such things as timeliness. 
  1. Each of us must understand the story we tell about ourselves. Do we really understand the star of our own movie? And are we trying to motivate ourselves into being something we don’t really want to be? I had a job situation recently come up that, a few years ago, would have been an important part of my movie. When the situation arose I came very close to taking my story that direction. Then I realized that the movie I was in was different from the one I had been starring in three years ago, and that job was not a part of the new movie. (No, I didn’t really word it that way. Do I look that crazy?) 
Ultimately, the best lesson about motivation may be this borrowing of a famous old line. Never try to teach a Sales Manager to audit; it wastes your time and annoys the Sales Manager.
There are a number of lessons that can be taken from Bergen’s write up. I invite you to read through it again, and let me know what you see.

Posted on May 10, 2010 by Mike Jacka

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  1. Be careful what you say about sales managers, they‘re not all pigs.  Some may actually like to have a better understanding of controls and how they can benefit their results.  Sales people learn from the time they are babies how to identify the customer benefit in their product or service -- how  to motivate people to buy.  If auditors are going to learn the sales managers' job, shouldn't they learn ours?   

    I have always been a believer that an audit report is a product that needs to be sold, and that to sell a finding you have to understand what will motivate your customer to buy it.  It helps if your audit committee gives you a big stick, but the carrot will usually produce a better result.  It is not enough to site best practice, or compliance with a regulation or company policy.  A business manager needs to understand the benefit to the operation, the bottom line, or maybe just their own performance review.  In the Bergen article, the fact the lawyers were more motivated by pro bono work may have had more to do with state bar requirements to contribute a minimum number of pro bono hours than how they think of themselves. The point of the Bergen blog, and Jacka's, is that motivating factors are different for everyone and change over time.  That's the challenge.

    Finally, to re-borrow that old line, never try to teach an auditor psychology, it just makes him more annoying.  Now, about those lawyers...

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