When it comes to business motivation, the traditional focus has understandably been on psychology. The eternal quest for improved productivity has centred on the mind and creating the philosophical conditions under which positive mind sets are easily both achieved and sustained.
Ever since Napoleon Hill penned the seminal Think And Grow Rich all the way back in 1937, countless reams have been written looking at the myriad ways we can use our minds to eliminate the negative, accentuate the positive and, ultimately, deliver success for ourselves and for others. And so many of the ideas set out by wonderful thinkers, like Hill, have real power and have rightly gained popular traction.
Now, I’ve forged an incredibly fulfilling career in just this area, helping people to effectively weaponise their minds in pursuit of their goals. Done well, with attainable, incremental goals and disciplined application, these things really work but I do think that, if we limit things to mere psychology, we are in danger of missing a big part of the picture. I believe we should also make full use of physiology.
The vast majority of us know that a healthy and balanced diet will help us deal with life’s challenges. Indeed, many of us place sensible and informed eating habits at the heart of our strategies for life and that’s undeniably a good thing. But what I’m talking about is hormones – we all have them, we all produce them – and the way in which they dictate our emotions in real time. The truth of it is that they can be managed for the benefit of everyone.
Most people are motivated by our feelings. Let’s be honest, nobody likes being tired and feeling low or indifferent doesn’t get anyone’s vote. Negativity can be contagious but we must also remember that positivity has the same power and it can spread like wildfire if we encourage it – and hormones, handled correctly, can play a massive role.
And the good news is that it’s all very natural and intuitive and just makes sense!
It’s fair to say that everyone wants to get on in life but it’s equally valid to argue that the working environment has changed. Technology means things move faster and faster and the idea of a job for life is more or less dead. People feel overworked, under-paid and under-appreciated. The world hasn’t been too stable in recent years and there is less security. Aspiring to reach the inner circle or the upper echelons of increasingly large businesses can, for many, seem unrealistic.
The net result of all this is that people are often frightened and stressed. The human body deals with stress by producing a hormone called cortisol and it does its job well – but it will only get you so far. We need to look at stimulating the production of four other hormones to help us meet the challenges of the 21st century – serotonin, endorphins, oxytocin and dopamine.
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that helps regulate our moods. A lack of the stuff is related to depression whereas a healthy level makes us feel happy and far less anxious. We secrete it by way of smiling and sharing experiences. If we don’t see those things in the workplace, if we don’t feel there’s much empathy in the air, division is a natural consequence. You won’t need me to tell you that that isn’t conducive to productivity or a good vibe.
To get the serotonin flowing, we have to actively induce it. Acknowledge your staff, take time to find out about the world they inhabit. The old truism that a smile costs nothing must sit at the centre of your managerial approach. Working culture feeds down from the top.
When we laugh and when we move, we pump out endorphins. You’ll probably have heard how exercise can be a great way of dealing with depression and it’s the endorphins that do the heavy lifting. The name is a condensed version of ‘endogenous morphine’, pretty much meaning you get an internally generated hit or buzz. All natural, that’s what we need to encourage at work. When we feel good, we do good things. It’s not rocket science, just plain and simple human physiology.
Oxytocin is something else we want in the workplace. It’s all about bonding – secreted as a result of touch, the very compound that makes a mother love her baby and one of the most influential hormones in human evolutionary history, given its role in bringing us together in communities.
It can sometimes be forgotten in our dog-eat-dog world, but we’re an amazingly social species, so shake people’s hands, pat them on the back, show staff respect appreciation and show them you care . . . . just be mindful of people’s personal space . . . . but you knew that anyway!
The last of the four is another neurotransmitter known as dopamine, which, among many other functions, plays a part in reward-motivated behaviour. The prospect of goal achievement is heady stuff and a great source of motivation. We all know how good it feels to hit a target or fulfil a wish.
So keep those goals achievable and give your team something they can really work towards, something that gets them motivated, preferably as a collective. It’s no use demanding the Earth, you’ll only demotivate those you need most. Make goals realistic and you’ll soon see over-achievement.
Now, you may think I’m teaching grandmother to suck eggs but the contemporary business environment is based on competition and is therefore by nature individualistic and adversarial. For sure, your company has its competitors but they’re all external. The key to productivity, efficiency and agility in business is internal cohesion and, if you can create a culture in which everyone is happy, involved and driven, it will pay dividends.
A basic working knowledge of human physiology, for me, has to be one of the central planks of any motivational strategy. By all means, psychology and philosophy can be extremely useful, but the fundamentals of human chemistry are, to all intents and purposes, an open goal.
As any decent football coach would tell you, when bearing down on that open goal we should trust our instincts, remember we’re performing a role in and for the team and just keep it simple.