…in Business Management and Results?

"new brain for business book"By Diane Marentette and Richard Trafton, Ph.D.

When you think about the typical problems your business experiences, consider this: you will likely find an aspect of human behavior at its core.

Profits, margins, top-line revenues are disappointing?

Drill into your business drivers, and you’ll find people who are busy working hard, perhaps doing the wrong things or maybe doing the right things the wrong way. Perhaps they do not know what to do and are doing what they do know in hopes of having different results. One obvious implication is that “learning” may be helpful.

We know of many ways that learning happens. Do we know why?

It turns out that what motivates humans to learn is helpful in getting better business results!

Here are three Motivations for Learning.

• Achievement.

The most common motivator for learning in the workplace is “achievement.”

We want people to learn certain skills and knowledge in order to achieve specific goals. We solicit people’s interest in learning by attaching achievement to it –

If you learn to operate this machine, you will get a promotion.

If you learn more about this product line, you will be put in charge of it.

If you learn about all the key functions of the organization, you have a shot at being the next CEO.

Often, the achievement effect is multiplied by linking monetary rewards to the goals.

A desire for achievement or the results of achievement (like promotion, or a bonus) is only motivating until the achievement (or promotion or bonus) is complete. Then, learning stops.

• Fear.

Fear of dire consequences in some pursuit can motivate learning quite effectively.

“If I don’t learn this new system, I’ll be replaced by someone who knows it,” can motivate fast and effective learning of some skills. We can issue this threat ourselves or we can hear it from the boss – it has a similar effect in either case.

The effect of fear on learning is complex… and usually not favorable for business outcomes. It both motivates and inhibits learning in different ways and in different situations. If we fear that our performance or behavior will be judged or evaluated, we can be motivated to create a positive judgment, and learning can result.

This is an uncommon result, however. More often, we are more motivated to weasel out of the situation or craft persuasive cover stories for our under-performance. In general, the anxiety produced by fear inhibits way more than it motivates.

We can be our own worst enemy as well.

By taking on a learning assignment and struggling with it, we run the risk of self-judgment that can have the same effect as judgment from others.

In any case, as with the achievement driver, once we have reduced the fear, learning usually stops.

• Mastery.

A third motivator is the more powerful one, because it is “internally” induced and continues in a sustainable way. It is the learning we look for in our businesses. Unfortunately, it rarely plays out in the workplace as we would like.

When we personally want to master something, a skill, a set of knowledge, we seek out opportunities to learn. Our interest, passion, and curiosity are triggered by a quest for mastery – or perhaps our interest, passion and curiosity trigger the quest for mastery!

In either case, this learning continues, even when we are not focused on it. We seek the opportunity to learn and increase our mastery without external prodding or rewards.

Even when we have learned enough to move our mastery to a higher level, our brain continues to process and consolidate, because of the internal quest. And it only ceases if we give up our drive for mastery, perhaps to pursue something new and interesting.

Organizational Learning: Learning to Learn

How can we use this information to help us have greater success in our businesses?

• Create Opportunities for Learning that are Tied to Mastery.

As a leader, you can create opportunities for learning that involve an interest in mastery on the part of the employee.

Why does this person want to master it?

How does it make a difference in the business?

How does it fit within the journey this person is on?

By identifying the interest, passion and curiosity already triggered and linking it to the work performed, the employee can benefit from his intentional learning.

• Remove Fear from the Environment.

Watch the language you use and the directives you either give or imply about learning, so that people feel they have a choice. Even if the choice is self-evident, fear drops when we feel we have control over the future. Imperative language (“You should be focusing on getting better at this!”) contains an implied threat that may trigger an Old Brain response.

• Help People Align with the Business.

Invest the leadership time and energy to help people see alignment between their desires to be masters of something and the needs of the business. Challenge yourself and your leaders to learn enough about what your people want to help shape that alignment.

Learning to learn can be the first step in moving your organization’s overall performance to the next level.

Diane Marentette and Richard Trafton, Ph.D. are the authors of “A New Brain for Business” and founders of The New Brain for Business Institute, www.newbrainforbusiness.com, where they translate good science into good business. For more information, please write to us at info@newbrainforbusiness.com.