Manager? Recruiter? Stop Hiring For a Motivated Mindset

3 motivation myths that are costing you great candidates.

Screen showing "Do More" to describe a motivated mindset
Photo by Carl Heyerdahl on Unsplash

Have you been let down by the self-proclaimed “driven” employee that starts at your company and doesn’t perform well? You know, the ones who are “highly motivated”.

I bet you believe that the “motivated” candidates are the only ones worth hiring… but let me guess, this isn’t working for you, right?

So help me understand, why are North Americans obsessed with motivation?

Barely a day goes by when we don’t use motivation (or lack thereof) as a reason or excuse for our behaviours.

“I’m just not motivated to work out today” 

“I’m not going to make that sales call” 

“I just don’t feel like it”

You’ve said those things before. I have too. But why do we care so much about if we want to do something? Why don’t we focus more on why we want to do something?

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines motivation as the condition of being eager to act or work. I define it as acting from a place of desire. But the belief that you need to have a motivated mindset to act, leaves you dependent on surface-level whims. Instead, you could be rooted in a deeper understanding of what is important to you, and follow through accordingly. When we wait for motivation, we undermine our self-trust.

Dear hiring managers, please hire for skills over motivation!

As an IT recruiter, I expect to hear a variety of programming languages, technical skills, and a propensity for problem-solving at the top of the “must-have” list. But without a doubt, a “motivated mindset” is a higher priority than skills to most hiring managers.

But it’s a terrible hiring criterion if you want low turnover and sustained growth. Surface-level motivation is a non-reliable metric that is unstable in all people.

Before you disagree with me and say that there are people who are motivated 24/7, try to name one. Many of you named yourself (don’t worry, I did too). Now ask yourself if you are motivated to complete tasks that don’t align with your values for a sustained period of time.

Motivation is fleeting unless it is fueled by your values

Choosing motivation wasn’t an option during evolution. You weren’t “motivated” or “unmotivated” you lived or died. If you value your life, you would hunt for your food. If you valued your children, you brought back enough food for them too.

Motivation is fleeting if it is not anchored by your values. And yet you probably haven’t determined your values enough to filter your decisions — hiring or otherwise — through them. (By the way, this is normal!)

Motivation factors into every aspect of your life. One of the biggest areas is your career. During career coaching sessions, I meet people who don’t know what to pursue because they don’t understand what is important to them. They search for the surface level factors that “motivate” them at work, and sprint down the path towards another dissatisfying career match. I see it with hiring managers too — they haven’t established the values that they need in their new hire, so instead rely on surface-level factors like “motivation” to drive their hiring decisions.

I’m not saying that motivation is not important in your new hires. It definitely is. But it can not be the most important. By asking deeper questions you can find better ways to assess a potential employee match than “self-motivation”. Questions that will uncover the roots of their character and values.

3 motivation mindset myths that cost you great hires

1. Myth: Skills are less important than motivation

Are they really? No! 

I’m guessing what you really mean, is that skills are not the most important factor in hiring decisions. But that doesn’t mean that self-motivation is critical either. Motivation is not a reliable predictor of success! When given both options, lean towards skills. Skills ensure that the work will get done (and done well). Motivation will not. A self-motivated individual without the skills is going to need significant coaching, hand-holding, and support. Their motivation will eventually wear off (assuming a poor values match) and you will be left with an underperforming and underskilled employee on your payroll… Not ideal.

2. Myth: A self-motivated individual will always be self-motivated

A “driven” employee lives under the burden of always performing. It becomes the expectation that they work at a fast pace and create consistent results for the employer. This is fine at the beginning! Employees want to prove themselves and add value to a new company. But issues arise when they begin to notice less driven colleagues coasting through their days. This is highly demotivating and results in a high turnover rate for the motivated team members. And if these are motivated employees with strong skills, your company experiences an extreme loss.

3. Myth: Money is the biggest motivator

Research shows that if an employee’s basic needs are taken care of and they have expendable income that allows them to make lifestyle choices, money is no longer a driving motivator. Money only works as a motivator when salaries are too low to provide basic needs. But beyond that, money trivializes the work and reduces your willingness to do it. This means that money can be demotivating, rather than motivating in the workplace!

Here’s an example of a bad hire:

Tina is interviewing Paul for a job with her start-up. He regales her with the details of his self-motivated mindset and ability to get s*** done. His previous roles were also with technology companies, but they were more established than hers. She feels that his background and motivation will help her scale the company. So she hires him.

He is engaged and motivated… for 90 days.

As the “honeymoon phase” of the job ends, it becomes clear that he has less ability to get stuff done that Tina had believed. But how had she missed it?

To understand, let’s look at Paul’s top values: security, recognition, and contribution. 

Incongruency #1 — Tina is working on securing funding, but the company is not financially stable.

Incongruency #2 — She has a very small team and a non-formalized recognition structure. All employees contribute without receiving monetary or verbal recognition.

But not all is lost! Paul’s third value of contribution is a match — Tina’s start-up (like most) require everyone to contribute to the company’s mission to succeed.

Paul is set-up to fail

Does it surprise you that Paul is fired for ineffectiveness?

It shouldn’t.

Tina, like many employers, assumed that Paul’s motivation is self-sustaining. Because he was self-motivated before, she was fooled into believing he would be at her company too. But motivation is not the root of our behaviour. Our values are.

If you want to hire the right people, ask better interview questions

Asking someone if they are motivated (or not) does not give you long term and sustainable insight into their work style. 

Here are some questions that will help you understand the deeper aspects of a candidate’s personality. Each question reveals something about the root of the person’s motivation and will help you make a positive match for your team:

  • What factors are motivating you to leave your current role?
  • Tell me about the most fulfilling aspect of your previous jobs.
  • What motivates you to perform at your best?
  • Give me an example of a time that you felt burned out. How did you recover?
  • How would you describe the best colleague that you have ever had?

When we ask deeper interview questions we make better hires

“No company, small or large, can win over the long run without energized employees who believe in the mission and understand how to achieve it.” – Jack Welch

Hire for a values match. Motivated individuals will remain motivated because they are a fit with your company’s culture at a deeper level. They will believe in your vision and will use their motivated mindset for long enough to help you achieve it.

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