Project Practitioners > What Motivates You?

What Motivates You?

By Chris Cook, PMP

READ TIME: 5 minutes


The book Payoff: The Hidden Logic That Shapes Our Motivations by Dan Ariely has the following description:


“Dan Ariely reveals fascinating new insights into motivation—showing that the subject is far more complex than we ever imagined.

Every day we work hard to motivate ourselves, the people we live with, the people who work for and do business with us. In this way, much of what we do can be defined as being “motivators.” From the boardroom to the living room, our role as motivators is complex, and the more we try to motivate partners and children, friends and coworkers, the clearer it becomes that the story of motivation is far more intricate and fascinating than we’ve assumed.

Payoff investigates the true nature of motivation, our partial blindness to the way it works, and how we can bridge this gap. With studies that range from Intel to a kindergarten classroom, Ariely digs deep to find the root of motivation—how it works and how we can use this knowledge to approach important choices in our own lives. Along the way, he explores intriguing questions such as: Can giving employees bonuses harm productivity? Why is trust so crucial for successful motivation? What are our misconceptions about how to value our work? How does your sense of your mortality impact your motivation?”


In one study, Dan and his team experiment with different motivators for production. Money, coupons for food, and verbal rewards are the three methods tested. A monetary incentive spiked production and had the greatest positive impact initially. As time went on, the team noticed the largest dropoff from this incentive. If a team member gets $20 for an activity, he or she starts to weigh other activities based on that price point. You have established a precedent that an employee expects with every extra performance.

Instead of money, the team offered a coupon for free pizza. While it has a monetary value, it is not a direct cash incentive. Putting food on the table may motivate people differently. This impact was similar to the money idea. The results spiked yet trailed off dramatically as time passed.

The motivator with the combination of impact and long-lasting was the verbal reward. Letting an employee know ‘good job’ spikes production noticeably and has a long-lasting impact over time. Being earnest in your praise is important. You cannot flippantly tell your team ‘good job’ then move on for this reward to work. You must mean it.

Let’s take a look at some other ways your team may be motivated:



Incentive motivation or reward-based motivation is a type of motivation that is utilized when you or others know that they will be a reward once a certain goal is achieved.

Incentive motivation was described above in the experiment by Dan and his team. Not all incentives are created equally. Therefore, not all incentives motivate equally. When you give $20 to create one more widget than your average, the day you ask for two more widgets above average, that bonus better be double. Otherwise, your team does not see the correlation and realizes producing double for you does not produce double for them.

With incentives, there can come the point of never being enough. When $20 used to be cool and everyone was happy, now $50 cannot get people to show up. Incentives tend to disappear when things are going poorly, which is the time you need your team to step up the most. If an incentive becomes expected, motivation is nearly lost.



Anyone big on goal-setting and achievement knows that accountability plays a huge role in following through on goals.

The fear of not doing your job and leading to you losing your job can provide all the motivation necessary to get up and go. Some people live paycheck to paycheck. Losing their job might mean losing their assets quickly. That fear can motivate people to do great things.

As a leader, you cannot abuse this incentive. Having your team constantly fear you is a great way to lose talented team members. You will get your way, but that is not the most important. Getting things correct should be your goal, no matter whose idea it is.

The fear of failure motivates leaders. Because you are the one signing off on the project, your name is attached to it at all levels. Putting your name on the line and fearing the negative result motivates you to work long hours and sacrifice greatly.



Titles, positions, and roles throughout jobs and other areas of our lives are very important to us. Those who are constantly driven to acquire these positions and earn titles for themselves are typically dealing with achievement-based motivation.

Someone who has pieces of paper lining the walls is an example of a person motivated by achievement. Their initials after their names are longer than their government names. Titles drive this person. The more important-sounding the position, the more motivated this person becomes.

Instead of a janitor, this person wants to be called a building technician. Instead of a forklift driver, this person wants to be labeled as a materials handler supervisor. If such labels do not motivate you, do not discredit the power of them. Self-confidence, for some, rides on the fact that they sound important.



Have you always wanted to be better at anything you do? Is one of your goals to learn how to do your job better or improve your hobby? If so, you may need some competence motivation.

A crucial motivator in jiu jitsu is learning the techniques and gaining that understanding. Once you apply a technique you learned, that internal reward system fires at an all-time high. That same reward system exists in business.

A tip or trick you read about to help you interview is put into practice leading to you not only landing the job but also getting the desired salary. The competence you gained motivates you to learn more, which turns into earning more, which combines other motivators.

In rare instances, some people have enough money, earned all the titles, and need something else. Learning becomes that gift that is always giving.



Your motivators are not necessarily something else’s motivators. Money is not always king. When you think it is enough, look at the numbers. Why would someone work extra for little to no benefit?

In talking to a technician, I learned he loves to draw. I asked him to forward me a list of art supplies he needs. He sent back some picture frames, pencils, an easel, and other artistic items. As the year progresses, I will send him one or two items from the list randomly.

When I feel he has heard ‘good job’ enough times to bore him, I will hit his doorstep with a package containing a few items. He appreciates them and puts them to immediate use. Those little physical gifts help to motivate him along with hearing the praise. There is no direct correlation between a pencil and a 15% increase in production. It is a feeling.

These small $5-20 items motivate him to produce more, and it shows personal care for his interests. The items are not random. They are specific to his hobbies outside of work, which ends up motivating him at work.

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