What's the best way to motivate people, based on recent research? We'll get to that in a moment. But first—is this even a smart question?
Not really. The question assumes a one-size-fits-all, best solution. That's a common trap when problem-solving. Consider nutrition.
Years ago, at the first sign of a cold, I took massive amounts of vitamin C. "It's a wonder drug," said many people, including the famous chemist Linus Pauling. He'd won several Nobel Prizes.
I figured if I took enough vitamin C, I'd prevent colds. Or minimize their effects. Or win a Nobel Prize.
Then, one day, my doctor nixed the idea. "There's no research supporting it," he said.
I was very disappointed. "Can't I just take it for the placebo effect?" I asked.
Back to motivation. The #1 motivator, it seems, is not recognition. Or money. Or even vitamin C.
That's according to Harvard business professor, Teresa M. Amabile who asked several hundred knowledge workers to keep daily diaries (HBR, Jan-Feb 2010).
It's hard to argue against progress. You rarely hear employees admit the following:
Manager: How's it going?
Employee: I can honestly say that I got nothing done today whatsoever. Zilch!
Manager: Sorry to hear that.
Employee: Don't be. I've never felt so motivated in my entire life.