Project LeadershipProject Management

Four Categories of Motivators at Work

Nobody does work just for the heck of it. There has to be a motivation compelling people to put in the effort. Research has been conducted into the various different ways that people are motivated to complete work. In a post at her website, project leadership coach Susanne Madsen shares Gretchen Rubin’s four categories of people and how they motivate themselves at work:

  1. Obliger
  2. Questioner
  3. Upholder
  4. Rebel

Upholding Motivation

Each of these categories has to do with how people respond to “internal” and “external” rules respectively. External rules are actually work conditions, such as a deadline set, whereas internal rules are things you set for yourself, such as personal goals. Obligers, for instance, respond very well to external rules because they are people-pleasers. However, they might get so caught up in pleasing others that they forget to watch out for themselves. They also might have difficulty being self-starters, since they want to be doing work that they know for sure is wanted from others. Account for these factors when you know you have obligers on the team.

Next are questioners, which are just what they sound like. They question all of the tasks given to them because they want to confirm there is a valid logic to what is being asked of them. So you had better make sure there is a good reason that you are assigning work to them. In fact, if they do not ask questions, you might want to ask if they have questions anyway, just to save yourself time when they inevitably boomerang back with concerns.

The third category is the upholder. They have respect for both internal and external rules, and frankly, they kind of sound like the best category overall:

They are motivated by fulfilment and by that nice feeling of getting stuff done and achieving something. On the plus side they are self-starters, reliable and don’t need a lot of supervision or accountability. They typically wake up and thinking “what’s on my to-do list today?” On the negative side they need clear rules to be able to operate and avoid letting anyone down. They don’t like to deviate from rules and get frustrated – paralyzed even – when rules are ambiguous or lacking.  To others they can come across as rigid or cold. At times they can even make others feel bad because of their high levels of productivity[.]

But should it be the upholder’s problem if someone has his or her feelings hurt over being vastly inferior? Heck no!

Lastly, there are the rebels. Rebels are basically jerks. They do not want to be bothered with anything. You might be able to reverse-psychology them into doing work by challenging their egos, but that sounds like more trouble than it is worth to me. Can you just fire them?

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