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Forget Incentives - Try This Motivational Technique

Managers often tell me that they wished their people were more motivated. They ask me what incentives work.

Most are surprised when I tell them to forget incentives, there’s something else they can do to help people be more motivated - and it doesn’t cost a dime!

Motivation, simply put, is what moves a person to take action.

It’s well-known that a paycheck alone is not enough to motivate employees long term.

I know it’s never been enough for me.

And many incentives provided are short-term motivators. They’re extrinsic, rather than intrinsic, or personal motivators.

But where does personal motivation come from? And can managers do anything to influence it?

While there are many facets of motivation (different theories, different types, different outcomes), in this article we’ll explore the power of positive feedback, why it’s one of the best motivational techniques, and how the unique drivers of your DiSC® style play a role in personal motivation.

Power of Positive Feedback

I recently polled my LinkedIn audience on whether genuine, positive feedback helped them feel more motivated or less motivated. 100% of respondents said they felt more motivated.

And guess what - it is free. You don’t have to invest in expensive incentives.

The power of positive feedback does wonders to motivate our teams.

It’s not just an effective motivational technique but it can drastically transform the company culture and have a compound effect on engagement and productivity levels.

But for feedback to be effective, there are some helpful tips to keep in mind.

Consider the when, how, and why of feedback.

To be most effective, we’ll want it to be:

  1. Current - don’t wait for the annual review; give the feedback immediately

  2. Complete - clearly and concisely explain exactly what your employee did well (just saying “good job!” doesn’t cut it); being specific can expand awareness and open the door to discussion, whereas general statements don’t reinforce desired behaviors or outcomes, and could end up seeming superficial

  3. Caring - be genuine and sincere; speak from your heart, it may feel corny at first, but the best feedback evokes emotion

  4. Comfortable - know your employees and don’t put them on the spot if it might embarrass them; remember, this feedback is for them, not to make you look good

  5. Curious - part of giving feedback is listening; give them a chance to share their own thoughts about the work

  6. Consistent - create a positive culture by making feedback an ongoing daily dialogue; this will also encourage your team members to compliment each other rather just waiting to hear it from management

Positive feedback is a technique that we must practice and refine.

The way leaders and managers share feedback has a profound impact on the employee experience and company culture. Practice these 6 C’s of Constructive Feedback and before long it will be effortless and enjoyable.

Why does positive feedback work?

It may have more to do with biology than commentary.

Stick with me here.

Feedback is a form of ongoing training. Not just job training, but psychological training, the kind that taps into innate strengths and our core desires.

It’s common practice in the workplace to utilize both negative and positive feedback, but there is reason to believe that negative feedback is counterproductive.1 It is possible to repress (demotivate) someone if your approach is to use negative techniques like discipline or censure.

It’s well-known that our behavior is influenced by pleasure and pain.

You may think negative feedback is effective because it will be so painful to hear that the receiver will avoid repeating the actions that led to that feedback.

But that’s generally not what ends up happening. Negative motivation is about punishment and fear, which may be effective if you’re trying to convince someone to evacuate their town because a hurricane is coming. Or if you’re an army commander. But it’s counterproductive in the workspace.

Believe me, there are many companies that choose negative motivation techniques as their primary tactic.

For example, instead of rewarding the best performing employees, they punish and shame the worst performers. They make an example of anyone who fails to meet expectations. They also only provide feedback when they’re so fed up with someone’s lack of performance - and believe me, the delivery of that feedback ‘ain’t good!’

Obviously, I am not in favor of negative motivation techniques in the workplace.

As Ken Blanchard says:

“Catch people doing things right!”

To optimize workplace performance and engagement, feedback needs to be positive, and ongoing.


It’s quite simple when we apply logic to it.

Negative repels.

Positive attracts.

Consider how you feel when you are provided with great customer service - you want to return.

But when it’s a negative experience, you’ll avoid that place like the plague!

It’s not to say that we shouldn’t help people stay on track by showing them what they need to change to be more effective.

It’s HOW we do that.

Know Thyself

Countless techniques and methods exist for eliciting improved behavior and productivity, and we know that positive feedback is just one, albeit one of the best.

Now imagine if you had insight into your employees’ attitudes about themselves, their core beliefs, their psychological needs.

Better yet, imagine if your employees had this insight into themselves!

Would it make your life easier?

This drive to maximize our potential and actualize our life’s purpose is intrinsic. It’s what motivates us from within. It’s the single most important factor in determining the extent to which we will commit to do what needs to be done to achieve what we want to achieve.

This is our personal motivation, or self-motivation.

But we can’t access it unless we know who we are. Even then we aren’t all naturally self-motivated all the time.

Apollo’s legendary admonition carved into the temple at Delphi in Greece, Know Thyself, has proven to be timeless.

A clear understanding of yourself (self-awareness) can help you become successful and fulfilled. It's important to know your strengths, your limitations, your passions, your motivators, your stressors.

And a clear understanding of what drives others’ motivation can help a leader facilitate the growth and success of the team.

Having this insight allows you to customize your approach, training, and opportunities to create a positive environment that fuels desire and breeds achievement.

It can take a lot of time for a manager or supervisor to get to know each person and understand their stressors and motivators. And some managers have a very large team.

That’s why I love and use the Everything DiSC® Workplace® online assessment tool with my clients. It’s such an efficient yet effective tool to connect, relate and communicate more effectively.

DiSC® serves as a launchpoint to help people identify and explore the priorities that drive them. It taps into our intrinsic motivation, which is very closely tied to our values and our self-worth.

You and every one of your colleagues finds some parts of work motivating, while other parts stress you out. DiSC® can lend you a deeper understanding of your motivators and frustrations, as well as where you tend to focus your energy.

The four primary styles on the DiSC®map are:

While there are 12 distinct styles, and many variations, these are the four basic styles that have evolved since created in 1929 by William Marston (who combined many diverse interests in his field)!

As you can imagine, people are motivated and stressed by different things, some of which are correlated with your DiSC® style.

I remember taking three of my trainers on a trip out to Boston, as a reward for great performance and to bond more. On the 6 hour drive out there, we were playing a silly word game, competing to come up with the most words that pertained to facilitating, that started with each letter in the alphabet (it was a long drive so we were just having some fun).

Two people were so engaged and competitive, while one was silent and not participating. I asked her what was wrong; I assumed she was upset or something.

She simply said, “competition isn’t what I’m interested in. Give me something to help and I’m all in!”

We assume everyone is motivated the same. They’re not.

For example, people with highly-inclined:

D styles are motivated by challenge, results, and action.

i syles are motivated by action, enthusiasm, and collaboration.

S styles are motivated by collaboration, support, and stability.

C styles are motivated by stability, accuracy and challenge.

But there is more to it, and it’s very important to use the tool properly.

Caution - Use the Tool Correctly

Like any good tool, we must use it correctly or it can be damaging; the person using it can demotivate rather than motivate.

So it’s very important ‘the operator’ of the tool understands it and uses it properly.

One mistake some of us might make when first looking at DiSC® as a tool, is we assume it’s labeling people - or we might even use it to label people!

It is not meant to label at all.

In fact, DiSC® is describing behavior, not pigeonholing a person.

Another common mistake is favoring one style over another, or thinking your style is negative or positive. We are a mix of all four styles, and not one is better than the other.

Furthermore, there is no correlation with negative and positive attitudes and DiSC®.

No one should feel badly about their DiSC® style, nor favored because of it.

And we should not rely on DiSC® as a hiring tool. It can be a part of the process, but it should never be the focus of hiring.

This is just a snapshot of DiSC®. The online DiSC® assessment and reports have a great deal more information that help create more effective and productive working relationships and an enjoyable and productive company culture. One of my favorite parts is being able to compare reports and strategize tips for working better together.

A healthy company culture emphasizes the total employee experience. And, as studies have shown, organizations that focus on positive human experiences in the workplace will see higher retention levels, increased productivity, and better performance.

So it only makes sense to create that type of environment through positive feedback. And it makes even more sense to help employees understand that they are uniquely motivated by their own desires, strengths, values, and work styles. This type of internally-driven motivation is longer lasting than short-lived extrinsic rewards.

Making sure our feedback coincides with people’s motivations and stressors is key.

“Whatever words we utter should be chosen with care for people will hear them and be influenced by them for good or ill.” – Buddha

Do you see enough quality, positive recognition in your culture, or would you appreciate more?

I’d love to know - Please drop a comment 👇

PS - If you’d like to know how you can bring DiSC® programs to your business, whether through certifying your internal trainers or facilitated by me, please reach out to me or learn more here. As a coach and trainer for the past 25 years, it’s my passion to help build strong, successful teams and I’d love to be part of your culture!

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