Authors Heidi Grant Halvorson and E. Tory Higgins say the old carrot-and-stick approach of motivation doesn't work. Different people have different motivations. Using the wrong approach can backfire and lead to failure.
If you're comfortable taking chances but often without a Plan B, you're considered a promotion-based person. That means inspirational role models motivate you, and you become more engaged when you hear about a high-performing salesperson. You feel dejected when things go wrong.
On the other hand, those who have top-notch analytical and problem-solving skills, are stressed by short deadlines and are uncomfortable with praise are considered prevention focused. Strong cautionary tales that show lessons learned after a wrong approach motivate them best.
People who are promotion focused people often thrive in more creative careers, such as musicians, copywriters, inventors and consultants, Higgins says. They thrive in jobs where they are rewarded for being innovative, and practicality isn't a top priority.
"They are eager and enthusiastic and willing to take some chances," he says.
The prevention focused often do better in more conventional jobs such as administrators, bookkeepers and technicians.
"It's more natural for them to be vigilant," he says.
The key for managers is employing both kinds of workers then playing to their strengths by using the right motivation, Higgins says.
The best way managers can tell the kind of employee they are dealing with is by looking at whether the person seems to be an optimist or a worrier, Halvorson says.
"How do they respond to your suggestions when you suggest something new? Are they enthusiastic, or do they chime in with their own ideas? If so, that's promotion focused. Do they seem uncomfortable and argue for the old way of doing things? Then that's prevention focused," she says.
Halvorson says employees also can use their own predisposition to be more successful at work.
If you know you're a creative type who responds well when you feel like you're making progress, you can let the boss know that acknowledging small wins keeps you motivated. Or if you do better when you have more time to get things done correctly, let the boss know you like honest feedback.
Anita Bruzzese can be reached c/o Gannett ContentOne, 7950 Jones Branch Drive, McLean, Va. 22107.