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Friday, 30 January 2015

What's motivating your actions


As we've seen in other blogs * this week motivation is key to achieving our goals.

The challenge with what motivates us is it's unconscious - ie we know consciously something motivates us (our values) but we're not aware of what they are specifically. Never the less they still provide the motivation to act or not act in everything we do every hour of every day.

Because values come from the heart not head, and as the language of the heart is very different from the head, values are generally unconscious -  no tick lists for determining your values I'm afraid (I know many do use a tick list but aspirations rather than reality have a way of finding themselves on those lists).

Here's a brief overview about values:
  • Every action is motivated by a value eg security, adventure, health, love etc (see picture above for more suggestions)
  • That is they're the rules we operate by - those things we're not prepared to negotiate on
  • We therefore use values to judge others - for example a value of fairness will quickly judge someones behaviour as selfish - even though the person next to them might not even understand what they're talking about nor understand the level of anger that behaviour has generated  
  • These values are context specific ie our motivators at home will be different than at work 
  • We have a hierarchy of values for each context - ie home, work, friends etc
  • This hierarchy may or may not include values that conflict - e.g. values of security and adventure may cause a few issues
  • The higher up the hierarchy the more sway a value will have on what we do or don't do - so if security is higher than adventure we may find adventure not often getting a look in unless we can provide security with what it needs and then we're able to have adventure (more on this tomorrow)
  • For each value we will have complex set of beliefs that support what it is, isn't and how we get it (You only have to look at the different ways people love each other to realise that - ie love is a value and what it looks like is as varied as a snowflake - whether judged by those outside that relationship as healthy or unhealthy)
Do you know what your values are?

Not aspirational values like making a difference or world peace - not necessarily anyway.

Do you know the actual values that drive your behaviour - ie that determine whether you get out of bed or not, or do this task instead of that task, or prioritise that instead of this etc. And in the context of the blogs this week do you understand which values might be stopping you from achieving your goal(s)?

It's fairly simple - if a little time consuming (although see below for coaching available if you'd like me to walk you through the process): 
  • Pick a context you want to work on (e.g. work) 
  • Pick something you enjoy doing in that context (e.g. training)
  • Ask yourself "what’s important about doing x" (ie training)
  • Make a note of the answer you've got (e.g. sharing the learning)
  • Ask "What's important about" the answer you got (ie what's important about sharing the learning)
  • Make a note of the answer you got (connection)
  • Keep asking yourself the question "what important about" your last answer until you get something like "I don't know - it just is" ie you keep going till you can't give another answer.
  • You then have your first value (for me connection was it)
Then think of another activity at work and follow the same process again.

In this instance when asked "what's important about sharing learning" I could have gone a couple of ways - one looking at what was important about learning and the other looking at what was important about sharing. So I could do it again using the other aspect.

Now you'll have 2 values.

The aim is to do this until you have 7 or 8 values. You may find the same word crops up frequently but just keep going with different aspects of your work.

Another way of eliciting values is to chunk up and just ask "what's important about my job" and notice what you notice- or previous jobs you've had - or jobs you would like to have.

Steve Clarke reminded me this week of another means of determining your values. That's to think about the things that annoy you most about other people ie what behaviour that other people do makes you the most angry (e.g that you think someone should be sacked for) and then ask the above set of questions about that behaviour ie what's important about not doing that behaviour. For example people being late might make you very angry, which might mean timeliness is important and that might be a value in its own right, or the value generating the anger might be more about respect. That's why its important to keep asking "and what's important about that?" until you get a the same answer". 

Another suggestion from Vince Favilla (added a number of weeks after post publication) is to consider what you like being complimented about and then asking "what's important about that". You could also take that to the next level and consider attributes you compliment others about and consider "what's important about that?" too.

The aim is to find out what motivates you and certainly annoyance, anger or their opposite or any hightened emotion are great ways of connecting with your values.

Remember you're aiming for a list of 7 or 8.

Once you've got your list of values you need to determine their hierarchy. You do this by comparing each value with the others and saying which is most important.

For example - take my list of values of Achievement, Truth, Connection, Contribution,  Freedom, Laughter, Empowerment.
  • Start with the first 2 and put them in order of importance - for me that would be - truth, achievement
  • Then notice where the 3rd goes eg truth, connection, achievement - asking "is this value more or less important than that value" - note this isn't what we'd like the answer to be - just what it is really - no right or wrong either
  • Continue with the other words e.g. truth, connection, contribution, achievement
  • Freedom, truth, connection, contribution, achievement
  • Freedom, truth, laughter, connection, contribution, achievement
  • Freedom, truth, empowerment, laughter, connection, contribution, achievement
Which then enables you to consider how this hierarchy might be negatively impacting you achieving certain goals.


Certainly freedom was getting in the way of me making lots of decisions as you will discover in tomorrow's blog. Truth can certainly get me into more trouble in a work context than someone who doesn't have it in their hierarchy - please note just because it's not in the hierarchy doesn't mean it's not something you do - just not something that is as important as those values that are on your list.

If you're shouting "Truth is important" but it hasn't turned up on your list then it might be that what you're doing at work doesn't fully meet all your 'work' values (ie we only used the activities that you are currently doing). In which case you may want to have a go at answering"what's important about the things I want to do at work but aren't currently". Then place them in the hierarchy you already have and notice what you notice.

You might also want to explore any obvious conflicts between values too. More tomorrow on how to resolve clashes or unhelpful values hierarchies.

Have a go yourself - let me know if you have any queries.

Alison Smith
Inspiring change inside and out when what you're doing isn't working.

* Other blogs covering goals this week have included: Goals are not sweeping generalisations, Well Formed Outcomeswhat's stopping you and Goal or Gaol.

The coaching and facilitation I offer is specifically aimed at identifying what it holding you or your team back from achieving your objectives including understanding individuals' values. More here on the type of coaching I offer, and more specifically when someone else might be the more ideal coach for you. Call me +44 (0)7770 538159 or email alison@purchasingcoach.co.uk

A related blog here on why I think 'business values' is a misnomer.

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