Talkin' about my motivation
A view from Sue Unerman

Talkin' about my motivation

We are not all motivated by the same things.

Some of us are very motivated by the idea that there might still be a corner office in our future, if we haven’t all been replaced by robots. Some of us like to come to work because we enjoy working in a big team and can’t wait for Secret Santa. Some of us like learning new stuff.

If we can understand what motivates us, and then understand that what motivates others may be different things, then we can unlock the ability to get on with each other better and work better together. 

Recently, Suzanne Bidlake blogged about "super-collaboration": "The beehive concept in which each part of the organisation brings something without which the whole would fall apart. It’s the recognition that there is no need for everyone to work on the same thing, so long as all work towards the brand purpose. It frees agencies to do more of what they’re really good at. No duplication or competition, but a clear sense of role, purpose and interconnected place."

No kind of collaboration, let alone the super kind, can work well if we do not begin by truly understanding motivation. Purpose and role is not enough. Motivation is also crucial. Especially the unspoken kind. 

One influential psychologist simplified motivation down to three types. Professor David McClelland wrote that what drives us is fundamentally the need for power (the corner office), the need for affiliation (birthday cake all round) or achievement (learning new skills and techniques). If you can recognise your overriding need and that of your colleagues, it makes working together much less complicated. 

In the case of many agencies collaborating together on one client or brand problem, the agency culture may well have an overriding effect on how well the teams work together – or, in Bidlake’s terms, whether they are playing nicely.

If one agency is driven by affiliation, another by power and the third by achievement, then no wonder the ways of working might fall apart. Despite apparent alignment on delivering excellent systems thinking, the real motivations may get in the way of real consensus on behaviours.

Agency Friendly just wants everyone to be happy and to ensure that they all get to know each other better – the more shots, the better. Agency Edgy wants to make sure the campaign is on the leading edge of leading edge and talked up in Hoxton. Agency Imperial just wants complete control – they’ve got the main man’s ear at the client and they’re keeping it to themselves at any cost. Which one of these do you work at or with? Does their motivation match yours? 

Various media owners might be characterised by different drives too, making a partnership with the media agency more difficult than it should be if the cultures and motives are unspoken and do not align naturally.

As McClelland wrote: "Understanding human motivation ought to be a good thing. It should help us find out what we really want so that we can avoid chasing rainbows that are not for us. It should open up opportunities for self-development if we apply motivational principles to pursuing our goals in life." 

Not only does chasing the wrong rainbow waste time, if everyone in the room is chasing a different rainbow nothing is going to get done. You will work with people who do not share your motivations. If you know yourself, and can understand others, it will allow you to find the pot of gold.

Sue Unerman is the chief strategy officer at MediaCom.