Published in Retail

“I’m a LOSER Baby, So Why Don’t You Show Me [the data]?”

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before…

“There once was a man named Doug,
Whose pants were far too snug.
Before ‘twas too late,
He had to shed some weight,
So his wife, he could properly hug.”

Ah…the joys of returning to work after the holidays.  Like so many years before, I readied myself to start out fresh in 2018 with a ‘new outlook on life, work, you name it.’  But also like many years before, I became plagued by memories of other ‘fresh starts’ in my life.  Yes, what was once mere hauntings of the “Freshman Fifteen” at the start of my college days now felt (and looked) like the perennial handiwork of the dreaded “Holiday Hundred.”  But what can I say?  When you have family and friends that cook up a holiday food-storm—replete with unending trays of cookies and candies—what could be a greater compliment to their talents than having them see you eating the crumbs from the bottom of their now not-so-bottomless cookie containers?

The Ultimate Motivator

But alas, here I was (again)—another January, another attempt to regain some sense of fit shape.  [And just being ‘round,’ I’m told, wouldn’t cut the proverbial mustard.  Though they did say something about cutting out the mustard entirely] Then suddenly, from out of cyberspace, when what to my wondering eyes should appear, but a departmental email saying, “Don’t be fat in the New Year!”  I’m sure it was worded a bit more eloquently than that, but that’s essentially how my brain interpreted it.  And when many other companies may have stopped their communication and solicitation for a slimmer workforce with just this simple cautionary email, my company—being the dedicated health promoters they are—hooked their readers (including myself) with a faint, whispering tease into our ears— “You could win money…..”

Yes! There it was—the ultimate motivator. No, I’m not talking about finally receiving slightly longer, lingering glances from your spouse or even fewer trips to return the two-sizes-too-small clothes you received at Christmas.  No, no…that ultimate motivator was moolah.  Cash. In. Hand.  Yes, dear readers, this is what drove me to replace my cream-filled maple donuts (how I miss you!) with a South Beach Diet-Branded “Meat Snack”.  (Yeah, it’s a thing.  Look it up.)  They say Power is the ‘Great Motivator,’ but if that’s true, then I firmly believe that ‘Money’ is its equally-hungry baby sister.

Two Basic Sources of Motivation

Now, you could spend the rest of your life reading all the different theories of motivation and learning of its various principles and the psychology behind it all, but no single theory uniformly applies to all circumstances.  So, let’s make it easy on ourselves and just examine a basic, business-driven definition.  WebFinance’s Business Directory defines Motivation as: 

“Internal and external factors that stimulate desire and energy in people to be continually interested and committed to a job, role or subject, or to make an effort to attain a goal. Motivation results from the interaction of both conscious and unconscious factors such as the (1) intensity of desire or need, (2) incentive or reward value of the goal, and (3) expectations of the individual and of his or her peers.”*

Sounds simple enough, right?  Yet even in these rather base terms, it’s obvious that there is still a myriad of ways in which Motivation—by this definition alone—can be further segmented, studied, and applied to varying situations throughout our lives.

As consumers and members of the working class (presumably), we probably think of Motivation in terms of two distinct classifications—what early Motivational/Behavioral Psychologists coined Intrinsic and Extrinsic MotivationIntrinsic Motivation is fueled by an internal drive to change behavior or act in a certain way.  Say you suddenly decide that you want to learn to play the guitar.  I’m guessing in most cases, that desire comes from within you—you, personally, desire to learn something new.  You are therefore considered Intrinsically Motivated.

Extrinsic Motivation, on the other hand, is the drive to change behavior based on external forces—outside your own realm of control—which typically result in one of two things:

  1. A reward of some measure of value
  2. The absence of a punishment

Sticking with the guitar example, you were motivated intrinsically because the desire to learn to play came from you, yourself.  But there might also be some Extrinsic Motivation mixed in there as well.  Perhaps a friend or family member (maybe known for their own guitar-playing prowess) is coming to a local talent show or concert and you want to demonstrate that your mad pickin’ skills are every bit as good as theirs.  This is extrinsic in nature as you are seeking to gain a reward—in this case, it’s in the form of approval (applause, etc.) from audience members listening to you play (Extrinsic #1 above).  Yet it could also be that your extrinsic drive to learn the guitar is simply a means of avoiding a penalty.  Consider a University Administrator’s warning that you must learn to play some new instrument this semester, otherwise you risk losing your scholarship (Extrinsic #2 above).  Same outcome—but vastly different drivers of motivation.

And yet for many of us, I’d imagine that the roles are oftentimes reversed.  Rather than being the one that is changing behavior, most often we, instead, serve as the external, motivating force.  As parents, we are likely a strong motivator that drives our children’s behavior.  At our places of business, we are likely responsible for managing others within our organization—motivating them to do the very best they can in their respective roles.

Identifying Breakdowns in Performance

Personally, this comes to mind each and every time I think about how our clients’ training practices (or sometimes lack thereof) are used to motivate their workforce—the results of which I monitor and analyze on a daily basis. I work in the world of Customer Experience research—primarily through the creation, analysis, and reporting of Mystery Shop data/programs.

When our mystery shoppers report areas of non-compliance in the environments they are shopping—be it checking out at a grocery store, depositing a check, test driving a new vehicle, pumping gas, or any other brand-consumer interaction—we immediately take note and compare it to the current business practices and brand standards that our clients have in place for that type of location being shopped.  These standards are most often found within the organization’s SOP Guidelines, Training Materials, and/or Employee Handbooks given to both current and new employees.

The unfortunate reality, however, is that many of today’s employees almost expect some type of positive reinforcement—for simply doing the job they were hired to do!  Granted, something can certainly be said for those individuals that strive to perform above and beyond the “minimum requirements” of their position—striving for goals set either by themselves (Intrinsic Motivation) or others (Extrinsic Motivation).  But as with any standard, bell-curve-shaped results, it’s not the very top and very bottom performers [10% or 20%, etc.]  that require some extra attention—it’s the middle 60%-80% that are performing well enough to skate by, but are by no means knocking it out of the park, performance-wise.

A bell curve of employees

We see this all the time in our clients’ mystery shop data; there is always a spread of peak- and poor-performing sites, with the remainder grouped, and performing rather underwhelmingly, in the middle.  Therefore, the focus of much of my department’s consultative efforts with clients involves carefully examining those basic compliance standards that the brand has identified as critical to the basic function, well-being, and growth of its business.  In overlaying the results from mystery shops and audits—compliance data, shopper experience ratings, etc.—atop those brand standards, we begin to identify where there are disconnects and breakdown in performance.

Understanding Disconnects—Clarity through Perspective-Taking

Sometimes we find that the issue is how these standards are being interpreted and/or communicated.  A lack of clarity creates ambiguity—employees are no longer aware of what exactly is expected from them.  Or, perhaps there is misalignment in perspective regarding what is and is not possible in a particular role or job function.  In this case, the disconnect may occur because of who is creating the standards.  Oftentimes we see that many senior-level executives have been defining the company’s brand standards and operational procedures without having set foot inside one of its own stores to see, firsthand, how the operation is running (relative to how they presumed or expected it to be running).

In these situations, the goal is to help those executives walk through a day’s activities in the shoes of their employees—learning about all the obstacles or barriers that may impede employees’ progress or success on a daily basis, much of which executives likely never knew existed.  Again, this notion of perspective taking and the ability to have “boots on the ground” and to regularly and routinely “see through the eyes of your employees” is what makes mystery shop data such a critical source of insights for clients’ customer experience research initiatives.

So, by now, you are probably wondering why I wasted all that time in the beginning talking about holiday feasts and Meat Snacks.

All About the Benjamins…or is It?

Well, it turns out that in the end, I’m no different from any of my clients’ more languorous employees. Sure, my lethargy or ineffectiveness to drive change might not be based on my lack of understanding or my inability/desire to do my job—but I cannot deny that, on my own, I have been completely ineffective at shedding some pounds.  That is, until the “Biggest Loser” contest was announced at work.  But really, only truly motivated to change upon learning of the earnings could win for losing the largest percentage of weight during the 12-week period.  Boom—that was it. Case closed. No more indecision—count me in.  I was going for it.

Fast forward a bit and you’ll see how my steadfast efforts to lose weight daily turned into weekly, and now monthly successes.  But a funny thing happened on the way to the finish line.  Despite the initial overwhelming extrinsic drive to win the contest and pocket the cash, there was now an accelerated intrinsic drive pushing me forward.  Suddenly it wasn’t only about the money; I was physically feeling better.  I was fitting back into clothes I hadn’t worn in years!

Looking back, the source of this combined drive is obvious.  All contest participants are required to do weekly “weigh-ins” at the program sponsor’s office.  Naturally I always run back to my office afterward and enter the results into my own spreadsheet so I can keep track of my progress.  And in doing so, it occurred to me that this simple act—seeing and tracking my changes as I progressed toward my goal—was, again, no different from our clients who clamor to their mystery shop reporting platform when new mystery shop results for their sites are posted.  The success and livelihood of our clients’ jobs are often closely tied to the success of the brand locations they are responsible for.  Which sites are improving?  Worsening?  Flatlining?  And what can be done to rectify any that are on a downward trajectory?  How do we motivate those low-performing sites?

A Bit of Friendly Competition Never Hurt Anyone, Right?

One way can be found in something my “Biggest Loser” program sponsor implemented a few weeks ago—a best practice that we often put forth to our clients, as well.  She upped the ante; not by increasing the monetary reward, but by introducing a new component—the ability to see the progress of all other participants.  Suddenly, you were no longer performing in a vacuum; you were ranked. This was no longer just about you; it was about how you well you were doing compared to everyone else.  You now

knew the face of your enemies.  You began drawing targets on the names of every participant losing more weight than you—focusing your energy on being better than them, and envisioning yourself snatching the prize money away from the hands of all those potential winners current ranked higher than you.

With mystery shopping programs, we also find that a little healthy competition can go a long way in the performance department.  Given that most of our clients have locations grouped by district, region, or some other geographical banding, they almost always employ Territory / District / Regional Managers that are responsible for the performance of sites within a specific geographical segment.  Once all employees have uniformly received the proper training—providing details of their respective company’s business goals and brand standards—these location managers will often begin introducing performance statistics in an effort to bolster employee awareness of their current service levels.

The Results Speak for Themselves

As employees begin to see their scores and ratings, we often notice a slight uptick in site-level performance, particularly if awards or bonuses are attached to performance standards—both for the site and for those area Managers responsible for them.  Such performance improvement tends to increase even further if/when clients alter the mechanics of the mystery shopping reporting system to allow individual stores to see the mystery shop results of neighboring locations.

Suddenly the local store manager on 1st Street is motivated to improve behavior to at least mirror, if not exceed, performance levels of the store’s sister location only a few blocks away on Main Street.  Embarrassed by where the 1st Street store falls on the ranked location results; the manager now sets individual goals and devises strategies for employees to elevate their service levels.  When the ranking report is presented next time, the manager will fully expect to see the 1st Street store sitting higher in the standings.

And for those Ivory Tower residents that have an even greater ownership of and responsibility for these locations and managers?  At this level is where you will often see clients introduce bonus or incentive Hands unitedprograms into their employees’ compensation plans—with achievement dictated by whether locations/managers meet their performance/compliance goals.  The motivation is now not just intrinsic or extrinsic, it’s also holistic.  Everyone from the C-Suite down to the employees tasked with taking out the trash now has skin in the game—a vested interest in how their site performs, both independently and against other nearby locations.

It doesn’t matter if what you are measuring is your local bank’s compliance to federal law in providing you with specific financial disclosures during a recent transaction, or if it’s you complying to set of guidelines. Are you sticking to your diet?  Drinking less?  Exercising more?  Regardless of the circumstance, the introduction of some form of benefit, linked to compliance, will drive a higher likelihood of performance improvement—particularly if your current status or progress toward that compliance is made “public” for others to see.

 “If You’re Going Through Hell, Keep Going”**

But is reaching for—or running from—that Carrot or Stick the only way of motivating others?  Certainly not. Don’t forget about one of the easiest and most rewarding forms of motivation that anyone can provide:  Encouragement.  As parents, we do this with our children; as spouses, with our partners; as (good) co-workers, with fellow members of our workforce.  Here, there is little else required beyond a kind word and a show of support.

Psychologist Victor Vroom often cited Encouragement as the basis of his “Expectancy Theory.”  He argued that

“…if an individual believes he or she can do something then he or she is more likely to accomplish it. Thoughts and effort are vital to this theory because if someone does not think they are able to do a task, he or she is not likely to put forth much effort. Therefore, motivation is decreased. Failure does not motivate a person to try harder. Successes, even if they are small, motivate people to improve.”   ***

The lesson for our clients (and ourselves), then, is that the means of changing behavior doesn’t have to come directly from the coffer.  Will offering monetary rewards or incentives greatly motivate some people to comply?  Sure, but I would argue that there is a stronger, more lasting effect that can be gained by stepping back and viewing the situation from the perspective of those you are motivating.

How often are they hearing orders barked at them from management, rather than gentle words of encouragement?  How often are you demonstrating confidence in their abilities to perform to task?  In this day and age, I think the entire world could do with a little more kindness and encouragement from one another. If these truly human resources are the voice and customer-facing presence of your brand, equip them with confidence and Encouragement, first and foremost, before even thinking about brandishing the carrot or stick.

Day in and day out, I see the benefits of this approach in our clients’ mystery shop data.  And in continuing the parallels, I also see it at home.  Even in my little world of inter-departmental weight-loss competitions, I can safely say that Encouragement works wonders.  And it doesn’t take much, either.  At home, a simple smile and pat on my tummy—with a “Good Work” or “Keep it Up” thrown in for good measure—is enough to make me believe that I can accomplish the goals I have set for myself.  I can walk by the donut counter at the grocery store with my head held high, resisting any urges to indulge, because I know that I have the support and backing of my coworkers and, most importantly, my wife.  She believes in me—believes that I can win.  And quite frankly, there’s no greater motivation than that.


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Photo Credits

  1. Zhivko Illeieff, Next Level Work. performance
  2. The Problem with the Peak,
  3. Memphis Conference of the UMC.