CCA President Ellen Kleinstuber


July 21, 2022

Most of my adult life I’ve been a cat person and have spent countless hours watching and studying my cats to understand what makes them tick. Every time I think I have them figured out, they change it up on me and I’m back to square one. It’s part of their mystique. 

A couple of years ago, we introduced a dog into our household. Although I loved other people’s dogs, I was apprehensive about having one of my own. I didn’t want a smelly, slobbery, dirty dog in my otherwise clean home. I am a big enough person to admit that I was wrong. I love our dog every bit as much as I love our cats. I can’t imagine our household without her, all 100 lbs. of dirty paws, excessive salivation, and the endless supply of “golden fibers of joy” that litter my floors, bedspread and furniture.

Our dog is a simple creature motivated by one thing – food. 

Need to get the dog to stop cowering in the basement during fireworks and come upstairs to her crate? Cheese! 

Need to lure the dog into the mobile groomer’s van for her monthly bath? Cheese! 

And the motivational challenge this week: Need to get the dog into the shower for yet another bath to wash the skunk smell out of her luxurious coat? Cheese! And peanut butter. Lots of peanut butter.

From a motivational standpoint, dogs are easy to figure out. Cats? Well… good luck with that. From my experience, people usually fall somewhere between dogs and cats on the motivational difficulty spectrum.

Motivation is something that comes from inside each of us; it’s a desire to achieve something that we deem important. In the workplace, it is what drives us to achieve established goals and contribute to the success of the team or organization. Motivation increases productivity by improving focus on completing the task at hand. Motivation is also what fuels our desire to learn new things and build new skills, which in turn leads to career advancement and personal growth.

The things that motivate people can generally be categorized as either extrinsic – a drive to gain external rewards or avoid punishment. Or intrinsic – doing something because it brings joy or personal satisfaction. Some people may think that intrinsic motivation is better as it is more sustainable and within the individual’s control. Let’s not forget that for many actuaries it’s extrinsic motivation, such as a achieving a passing score, getting a pay adjustment, or being recognized by management for their success, that got them through the credentialing process. 

Understanding motivation is one of the most important things we can do in our lives, because it has such a bearing on why we do the things we do and whether we enjoy them or not.”

- Clayton Christensen

Understanding motivation is crucial for a leader focused on increasing team engagement and promoting individual commitment to the team’s success. For those who are extrinsically motivated, understanding what it is they are working for and giving them a fair opportunity to achieve their goals allows them to stay focused on the prize. In some ways those who are extrinsically motivated are easier to manage, as it quickly becomes clear what drives them. Assuming that it is something you can provide you have a quick path to success in motivating these individuals. 

Some forms of intrinsic motivation are also easy to manage. If someone is driven by a sense of accomplishment, providing them the opportunity to complete tasks that move the team toward important goals will provide all the motivation that is needed. For others, it takes more intentionality to get to the heart of what motivates them and find a way to express team goals in a way that activates their motivation and elicits the behavior you want. Are they driven by a need for autonomy, intellectual curiosity and learning, a desire to belong and be part of something bigger, or a desire to control the outcome of a situation? 

Each of these requires a different approach to maximizing the individual’s potential. However, it is beneficial to have diversity in how people are motivated. When managed well, extrinsically motivated team members can provide a solid foundation that supports those who are intrinsically motivated as they learn and grow.

Another important thing to remember is that motivation is contagious. A leader who wants to motivate their team to reach higher and achieve more must start with making sure they are attentive to their own motivation. If you believe in what you are doing as a leader, let it show in your actions. 

Motivational pep talks and regular discussions about progress towards goals are important, however that only goes so far. When a leader’s task is to inspire their team actions speak louder than words. When people see their leaders “walking the walk” they start to trust. Trust is the foundation of leadership and a powerful motivational tool. 

Our job as leaders is to create a safe space that inspires others’ personal commitment to motivation. Creating a culture that stimulates people’s intrinsic motivation requires a great deal more intentionality and effort than motivating my dog, which usually involves the simple act of opening the refrigerator door. Leaders who set the stage for motivated employees to reach their goals create the foundation for team success.

“Understanding motivation is one of the most important things we can do in our lives, because it has such a bearing on why we do the things we do and whether we enjoy them or not.”
-          Clayton Christensen

About CCA

Understanding motivation is one of the most important things we can do in our lives, because it has such a bearing on why we do the things we do and whether we enjoy them or not.

-   Clayton Christensen