July 26, 2008

Motivation and Risk

The following excerpted article appeared in the on-line news today:
“NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - When it comes to purchasing lottery tickets, making people feel poor will prompt them to spend more money on a chance to become rich, American researchers said." The article went on to say that feeling of being poor motivated people to take more risks.

Motivation is a fascinating subject especially for managers who rely on people being motivated to be productive and work towards company goals. Sales executives attempt to motivate people to purchase their goods and services. Teachers rely on students being motivated to apply themselves and do their homework.

This article says if you make people feel poor you are encouraging risky behavior that will create more poverty. Hmmm, doesn’t sound like a very socially responsible way to use motivation but maybe we can learn something about motivation and risk.

Risk is important for our happiness. Think about the risks we take in life. If we don’t risk asking someone for a date, we may never fall in love and marry. If we don’t go to that interview we may never get a better job. If we don’t get on the bicycle we won’t learn how to ride. If you are willing to take a risk you must also face the possibility of failure or rejection. We may be turned down for a date or a job and we may fall off the bicycle. Facing risk is facing fear which is an emotional response to threats and danger usually initiating a fight or flight response.

It takes a certain amount of self esteem and a positive attitude to believe the risk is worth the possibility of failure. Is it worth facing the fear and conquering the fight or flight response? It’s interesting to note that when we succeed it leads to an increase in self esteem, “success breeds success”. After a success we feel confident in our abilities and more willing to risk something else. People then see risk as leading to exciting, novel and new experiences. Isn’t that what we want in our employees? To risk making a suggestion or a well thought out decision or accepting a delegated task or applying for a promotion? Willing to take these types of risks make us seem motivated at work.

Why do some people take risks and not others? Some people love taking dangerous risks and some are risk averse. To have a workforce of motivated people who take considered, calculated risks starts with the hiring process. Here are a few interview questions to consider:
1. How do you deal with risk on the job?
2. Name the greatest risk that you've taken which resulted in success.
3. Name the greatest risk that you've taken which resulted in failure.

Most people take risks based on the situation. This is another area that managers can control by creating a positive working environment for their employees. Ask yourself what happens when someone fails in your organization. Is failure treated as a learning opportunity or punished? Are employees encouraged to try novel approaches or criticized for straying from standard routine? Are employees rewarded and praised for calculated risk taking?

Hiring people willing to take appropriate risks and then creating an environment where they can innovate and feel successful will create a motivated team.

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