The Motivators exercise by Josh Bruce



This exercise is here to help explore and intentionally define your individual character as well as opening the door to defining an intentional group culture.

The exercise was inspired by Dan Pink’s work in the book Drive, Gary Chapman with the The 5 Love Languages, and some generation-based demographic research.

There are two versions:

  1. short and
  2. long.

You are presented with a list of eight to 12 motivators. You sort them from the most to least motivating for you.

Once the initial sorting is complete you may exercise the option to set distances between them to show how they relate to one another in non-binary arrangement. In other words, the first pass says, “If I only had these two, which is more motivating.” The optional second pass says, “This one is three or for times more motivating than that other one.”

Let’s begin.

Here are the motivators:

Having a master-level understanding of the endeavors you pursue.
The freedom to choose your own adventure; what you do, when you do, how you do, and so on.
The reason or “why” behind things.
Relationships with others (The 5 Love Languages).
The order and formal nature of things.
Negative consequences for your actions.
The facts and figures of things (includes, but not limited to money).
The appreciation and recognition of others or a label that implies more responsibility or respect (office manager not secretary, custodial engineer not janitor, and so on).

Now put them in order.

How do you interpret what you see?

I had a CEO tell me money was his top motivator. When he said it he was almost apologetic. I told him not to worry, not of these are morally superior than the others; what he was feeling was group pressure and this was a very selfish exercise. When we finished and started interpreting things I told him, if money and sticks were high, connection was really low, then I might be concerned. However, when it comes to a CEO, I want money to be a motivator because that means you work hard to make more, which means I can stay employed. And, I believe your desire for connection is such that it’s like you want all the money for yourself and your family; employees be damned.

Let’s see what the expanded version looks like. Basically we’re going to replace “connection” with each of the five love languages.

Words of affirmation
Verbal compliments or words of appreciation.
Quality time
Giving someone your undivided attention; not just sitting on the couch together.
Receiving gifts
For the most part this is what it sounds like, receiving physical tokens of things you appreciate; they act as a reminder.
Acts of service
Doing things others would like you to do.
Physical touch
Again, very much what it sounds like.

Just to Reuters.

Remove connection from the short list; bringing the list to seven. Add these to the list; bringing the list to 12. Sort (and optionally distance). Reflect.

From this exercise I can start to get a sense of some basic values: purpose and autonomy, for example. This self-knowledge can help me reflect on practices and tools I use; are they in keeping with these values?

For the group

Section titled For the group

Ive started using this exercise with teams and it’s been very insightful. As a coach I use the results to help me communicate with my partners in the group.

For example, if a group ranks purpose and mastery high on their list, then exploring and explaining the why behind things and giving resources can be beneficial for group communication and dynamics. Contrast with a group that doesn’t place those high on their list, the same communication style could be seen as a waste of time or patronizing; nobody cares about your book recommendations just tell me what to do.

Another thing I appreciate about this exercise is it can be done asynchronously; it can be difficult for a group of harried individuals to pause as a group and be introspective without major anxiety. I often create a survey with the short version in it and ask everyone in the group to sort it. Once I have the results I can apply rank voting to them.

Some tools will do the stack rank for you. I like to have the numbers though. So, on the vertical I’ll list the motivator and on the horizontal I’ll list the respondents (myself included, I’m part of the group, not an outsider staring into a fish bowl). If the motivator is number one from someone it’s given a value of 8 (or 12 for the long version). The next highest is 7 (or 11). And so on down the line.

Once I have all the numbers for everyone, I’ll get the mean, median, and mode for each motivator and sort them highest to lowest. This gives the motivators for the group. It can also show me diverse the group is; if everyone has the same order, the group is very similar.

The goal isn’t diversity or similarity, knowing which you have can just help inform possibilities; for example, I find diverse groups end up discussing things more (especially when consensus building), in part because the topic needs to cover the person high on purpose (the why) as well as the person high on numbers (gimme the data) on top of the person high on connection (how will this impact relationship); if everyone is high on purpose, just discussing the why might be enough. If, on the other hand, you have the diverse group and only cover the why, the other people in the group may feel left out or that they didn’t get a lot of value from the exchange.

For another example, consider representatives democracies with their congresses and parliaments. A lot of people, representing a lot of people. Can take a long time to get anything started much less finished; not necessarily a bad thing. For those types of groups to align quickly takes specific events and circumstances, which are typically out of the ordinary.

And just like with the self, this can be a springboard into other activities of discovery by asking questions like: how do we demonstrate we value this? Granted, if the group has connection low on the list having a group event to explore this may not work as anticipated.

One other thing

Section titled One other thing

I often get asked whether participants should respond from a work context or a life in general context.

My reply is that you should respond however you feel most comfortable. If you only want to share work-you, go for it. If you only want to share life-you, go for it. If you’re willing to share whole-you, go for it.

This hesitation and position is another chance for reflection.