Let’s face it we are all looking for the magic sauce when it comes to motivation and every few years or so a new magic sauce becomes fashionable – but then somehow seems to fade away for another magic sauce – and some come back with a different name every few years. Neuroscience has offered the promise of the magic sauce and there is certainly some very, very interesting research – but much of this matches what psychologist have known for decades.
It also seems that time and time again the simplest, oldest theories keep constantly resurfacing – that of showing appreciation has been in the literature for decades and still holds true. Neuroscience has just supported this. But there are four elements that are constantly underestimated and traps that we fall into when thinking of engagement and motivation in business:

Individuality – brain research shows us what the brain activates to but only the average brain. Different people respond differently to the same stimulus – this makes evolutionary sense. There is hence no one size fits all approach. For example David Rock talks about certainty in his model but some people don’t need and don’t care about certainty. In fact an amount of uncertainty, on average, massively increases motivation!

My way – we also seem to think that my way and how I process needs is what is true of others. Competitive people think we need competition. Empathetic people think we need empathy. Social people think we need social contact. These are all good things but it is not about my way but what drives my team and the individuals in it that is important. See above: we are all individuals with different needs and desires.
Daily business – has a habit of getting in the way of doing the good motivational stuff: desperately need to get that offer out to a key client…and the “thank you” is quickly forgotten and with the brain zooming in on quality, correctness and hormone levels increasing as the deadline approaches all the good things we learn in leadership courses and team motivation is quickly forgotten. This means some of this needs to be institutionalised and better – become a habit.
Protection – a potentially surprising truth about motivation is that it serves to fulfil our need but it also serves to protect our needs something almost completely ignored in most motivational theories. In sports terminology we need a good offence and a good defence. Our research (which surprised us initially, we confess) shows that highly engaged individuals and high performers also have very high protection patterns. This from evolution and brain mechanics makes sense but is a pattern often forgotten and can be tapped into to effectively drive performance.
We have developed a model based on evolutionary theory brain science and the history of psychology to develop a model around human needs, evolutionary and biological anchoring and psychological representation. This gives us 5 needs with 30 sub-dimensions and two motivational pattern around these. This enables us to carefully refine and drive motivation for each individual in a team or organisation. The truth is, it is much more like a sauce than we can imagine -but, and this is a big but, the sauce is not a single ingredient but a combination of limited factors that can tap into individual motivation.
Want to learn more? We are running short workshops on Team Motivation in Zurich (19th November 2015) and London (23rd November 2015).