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Ability + Motivation = Behavior

Ability + Motivation = Behavior

You don't have to sell me on the idea that incentives motivate people, or that they direct behavior. I know that ability + motivation = behavior because I have a background in the incentive industry and I know that incentive programs work.

But you do have to sell buyers in corporate America on the psychology of motivation, and this step is the precursor to selling an incentive program to an end user. The concept of incentive motivation recognizes that the characteristics of the goals we work to obtain influence our behavior. From the perspective of incentive motivation, experts conclude that incentives are the major force underlying what we do. We work to obtain the goals that are emotionally meaningful to us.

The goal toward which we work should clearly provide a strong sense of motivation. Specific goals increase performance, and difficult goals, when accepted, result in higher performance than easy goals. However, there also needs to be an expectation of obtaining the goal. Even a highly valued goal won't work as a motivational tool if the expectancy of successfully reaching the goal is very small.

Motivation also involves equity. To motivate or direct behavior, the incentive must be equitable for all participants. An employee constantly compares his or her job with peers. If the reward is only realistically accessible for the minority of participants, the majority will not participate and the results may even be detrimental. If the employee perceives inequity, he or she will act to correct the inequity by lowering productivity, reducing quality, increasing absenteeism, or quitting.

In addition to equity, an incentive must have a high perceived value to the participant so he or she can become emotionally involved in obtaining the goal. It is inherent in all of us to want what we cannot afford or what is beyond our reach. It's in answer to this basic instinct of wanting what one does not have-and perhaps is unattainable-that lifestyle incentives and awards exist and continue to motivate people. When the objective is motivation, the importance of hope based on desire should never be underestimated.

Remember that an individual will judge the incentive program by three major criteria: 1) How hard will I have to work? 2) What is the reward? and 3) How attractive is the reward? Or, in the language of marketing, "What's in it for me?"

To sell an incentive program before educating the buyer on the psychology of motivation is very difficult, if not impossible. Behavior is being motivated and directed constantly depending on the circumstances surrounding the employee. The objective is to purposefully decide on a beneficial goal, like decreasing absenteeism, then outline a plan to direct that behavior accordingly by setting a clear, equitable, obtainable structure.

First the buyer must be convinced that behavior can be directed and people motivated to achieve both corporate and personal goals. The rest of it should be a piece of cake.

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