The un-sticky motive – Tommy Guns and ‘Dead’-lines

Doe, standing next to a chalked outline that resembles the shape of a human body, “The body was found at midnight, seems like the guy took too many sleeping pills, wrote his dying note and then wham! Smack right out the apartment window. Ten stories down… heck I can’t even look 10 stories down, gives me the creeps… so our guy jumps out the window and lands on a taxi cab parked right under his apartment window. Talk about bad luck… well shit happens… wrong place wrong time, but the sad part is that no one noticed the body until the car owner realized he needed a police report to claim insurance. Sad, plain sad… if I could rewind the scene I’d drop the cabby… well lets wrap up, nothing to see here… it’s a case of suicide… and my wife made Chinese tonight so I’m leaving.” Jimmy, discontent with the explanation, “But why kill himself, he had a great job… no family issues… son just got married, no case of prior medical or mental illness, no criminal record… the guy’s as clean as the bottled water we get at our office..” Doe, “It tastes like rotten sushi…” Jimmy, “That’s what I meant… the case is clean but smells… we cant call it suicide without finding enough clues and a motive… we need a motive… we cant stick it until we find the facts” Doe, “Motive.. I’ll give you a motive… the guy flipped. People can’t take too much of a bad time… he couldn’t handle too much of a good one… let’s go… I’ll save some Chinese for ya!”

Taking someone’s life needs a strong motive, the act isn’t small and not everyone can do it, unless they have been through the worse back to back situations imaginable and the inner voices to tip them over to commit the unimaginable.

Most part of our lives is spent at work, or at home worrying about something that relates to work. Getting out of bed is the hardest part in the morning, getting out of bed without a reason is even harder. If ending someone’s life is that big a deal that it requires a very strong motive, so does living life itself.

So if everyone knows motivation is all important, why can’t we do anything about it. Why isn’t it obvious? Instead of being the ten gazzilion’th guy to tell you how to motivate your people, I’m going to argue about some globally accepted rules about motivation that to me seem as wrong as a well off guy committing suicide. Since I like my arguments different, instead of examining a case study of GE, I’ll talk about the next coolest thing… the Mafia. Jack Welch vs. Don Corleone. Now that’s a tough one.

The people involved in the gang Mafia aren’t all dumb uneducated people. They’re not all from broken homes. It’s not that they didn’t have a choice. They chose this or were convinced to choose this line of work. You must be thinking, what has this to do with organizational employee motivation. Well for one thing, these are acts, which require humans, it’s a daily routine, there is a hierarchy, there are goals, people get something out of it. And most of all people choose these instead of being in marketing, advertising or IT professionals etc and follow their tasks with motivation levels compared to the store managers of WalMart.

Analyzing in these lines, our conclusions fall apart. Motivated people don’t need globally accepted challenging goals, the Jack Welch type leaders or the Google type organizations. Its all relative, it all depends on the context and how the belief is set in the minds of the employees.

For instance, if someone put a gun in your hand, gave you 3 grand and asked you to kill the guy next door, would you do it? Chances are you wont. Money, even if in large amounts won’t motivate you to kill someone. Make a MBA sit and make phone calls for telemarketing having 12 hour shifts, chances are… he won’t do it. No matter how much you’re willing to pay him.
So money is not one of the effective motivating factors, but in retrospect, it’s actually more dangerous to keep someone who works just for the paycheck. In that case, if you’re paying him 10 grand to wipe out the competition, chances are the competition might hire him in 15 g’s to take you down. I heard its not that bad six feet under, but you never know, they might be dead wrong. In this case, Loyalty and Dedication has “values”, monetary and numeric, and it can be bought.So don’t hire people who work for money, just reward the ones who let you live another day.

Now, given the above situation, if the person was given a gun, was cornered in a dark alley by two thugs who just decapitated an innocent bystander for no good reason, and was given the motivation of his very existence, chances are he’d put a few holes in the face of the imminent threat. What changed his mind, the context of the situation. Remember, this time we didn’t even give him any money.

Give the MBA a telemarketer’s role for a software that runs the back end financial systems of major multi national companies and tell him that any lead found would be followed up, approached, met and managed by him, with a cut in the money generated in the process. This guy would be willing to work even if he was being paid less than the first guy mentioned. Remember, heroes are normal people who in the given extraordinary situation, perform to their fullest. Heroes are situational, so is success. It’s all relative, it’s all context sensitive.

So after the situational killings, do we have our trusty hitman? Would the person kill again if paid to do so? NO! Why? Well because he’s not a killer. That one incident wasn’t enough to change his mind. Now, if for instance the thugs he killed were from a Mafia gang, they would of course retaliate, try to hunt the guy down, smash his car, break his house, and kidnap his son if he happens to have one. In this situation the guy tries to get help the official way through police; chances are he won’t find his answers from a bunch of people who care more about donuts than people. That’s where you take advantage of the situation. The right kind of Al Pacino can go over to him and say “Sonny, you ain’t going to find any help there… the world ain’t fair, no one can help you but yourself… you have to get your own justice done, you know you’re right… doesn’t matter if people don’t like what you do, hell with them… so you see I know this person from downtown, helped me out once I got my foot stuck in the wrong kind of pond if y’know what I mean… it’s a 5 minutes drive… got a car?”All of this could well have been pre-planned. It was the test, the infusion process.

Now think in lines of your business, marketing might seems an interesting job, but how do you make someone really gel with your ideas and strategies and be part of the inner circle. An enthusiastic bright kid, a market opportunity, the right kind of mentor with the right kind of message (translated in the way the kid wants to hear it) and an ultimate never ending goal.

In the Mafia, the guy is connected to the upper management once he’s ready. He is trained by the best and eventually become part of the inner circle who find and train more recruits themselves. Everyone and every act is keep under a watchful eye. Most of all, there comes a point that wrong is not wrong anymore, its right. Its right against all meanings of the word right. The contagious idea is made to stick with proper training and tests against calculated situations. Its sticky cause once you’re an outlaw the society doesn’t accept you, so you in turn don’t accept the society.

In all this wrong, they’re right in the way they infuse people into their world. That’s a major thing organizations take for granted.

So instead of the motivation fading away after the first wave of announcements, you can make it stick by

  1. Pick the few people that fit
  2. Train those people in the ways of the organization by people who can connect and influence
  3. Keep them motivated by challenging them
  4. Make the motivation sticky by providing the context and situations
  5. Keep monitoring and tinkering with the formula

By right mix of the above, the thought process of people can be changed. You can change what people think is motivating by changing their frame of reference, by changing their context. Changing the way one thinks doesn’t require a multi million campaign but a few trainers who people trust and importance to little details.

Motivation then becomes a trivial follow up.

Motivation: To provide with “something”, as a need or desire that impels or initiates a person to a certain course of action or behaviour.

Reference: Some text, content and ideas taken from the book “Tipping Point” by Michael Gladwell