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Coaching Excellence: What Science Says about Human Motivation


Let’s first look at the components that help us best delegate a task to an employee.

And that is important because the workplace is so different today than even a few short years ago; that is, work is different and how and why employees do their work is also different.

Just as oxen and then forklifts replaced simple physical labor, computers are replacing simple intellectual labor.

The modern day CPA, if he is doing mostly routine work, faces competition not just from 500 hundred dollar a month accountants in Manila but from tax preparation programs anyone can download for thirty dollars.

McKinsey and Co. estimates that in North America only 30% of job growth now comes from routine, algorithmic work while 70% comes from heuristic work.

The key reason; routine work can be outsourced or automated while artistic empathetic non-routine generally cannot.

Routine not very interesting jobs require direction; non-routine, more interesting work depends on self direction.

The really good manager will know how to elevate the conversation with workers, that is to say, have conversations that seize upon and leverage this new reality.

What Science Has Discovered and Declared About Work and Human Motivation


Edward Deci (University of Rochester) in 1999 analyzed 128 experiments on reward systems and motivation in the workplace from the three previous decades.

Surprisingly he found that the research suggested that short term goals and tangible rewards have a decidedly negative effect on intrinsic motivation.

That is people will work like crazy in the short term but become less interested in their jobs in the long term.

So people need intrinsic reasons to do great work because:

1)  Technology is precluding anything but self directed work being the kind of work employees are doing these days.

2)  It is what people now need from their managers.

Fifty percent of employees in North America are not engaged and another 20% are actually disengaged in their work (Gallup 2009).


A major reason is that their managers do not know how to talk with them, that is to mine the three intrinsic motivators that science emphatically asserts every modern day worker needs.


Situation One: How to have a Facilitative and Motivating Conversation with an Employee

There are two parts to every (significant) conversation, the “What” and the “How”.

The “What” in any conversation is the actual work itself (the assigned task etc.).

For projects and assignments, the “How” requires three thing in the form of three facilitative questions for employees to be fully motivated about the project itself and to want to exceed your expectations.

These three questions are based on what the social sciences research over the course of the last 50 years has concluded every employee needs to be fully engaged and motivated in a given task:


Three Fundamental and Requisite Motivators Contemporary Workers in the Modern Day Organization

1)  Magnification: a feeling of autonomy about who we are; the desire to direct our own lives.

2)  Mastery: the urge to make progress and get better at something that matters.

3)  Meaning: the yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves.

Now, let’s be clear; some mechanical, routine “Football” tasks are not very interesting, don’t call for much creative thinking.  In other words, these kinds of assignments have little or no intrinsic motivation.

For those kinds of tasks see the next page.

Motivation: The Conversation


When assigning work to individuals, it is critical that the conversation ends with the employee feeling these three factors mentioned above being actualized into your communication with the employee.

You can check or verify that you have done this by saying at the conclusion of the conversation or send a follow up email that says something like:

1)   “Jimmy, you know I am trying to get better at the communication thing so let me ask you something.

On the assignment we discussed today, to what extent do you feel that:

A)  This task and the way we set it up give you sufficient autonomy and self direction in what needs to be done and how it needs to be done? If so, why is that the case?

B)  This project is important to you, that is there is enough challenge and opportunity for you grow? If so, why is that true?

C)  You understand its’ larger purpose and that motivates you? If so, what is that larger purpose as you understand it?

2)  In the conversation, use your four steamboats after each question and make sure that he/she answers all three questions clearly and cogently, especially the “Why” or the intent and meaning behind each question.

3)  Sometimes if the assignment is significant enough and/or it is a rather difficult employee, I will even suggest that the leader ask the employee to email “What” they decided and his/her answer to the three questions above, to verify that what was said was heard by both parties.

This conversation and/or the follow up email will greatly improve your chances of having deeply motivated employees.

So that is the three-fold process to have a good motivational conversation with an employee.

In part two of this five-part series on coaching we will look a how to have have a good conversation with an employee in a second difficult situation, Delegating a Simple but Boring Task.

For more on this topic, we recommend the following


The Ten Laws for Coaching Excellence

How to Empower Employees and
Coach Superior Performance

Click Here For Video and Full Description


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