Hint: it has something to do with how much work still needs to be done and how much has already been done.
The last time you were handed a huge project at work, what motivated you to take the first steps and jump right in? And once you started, what was it that got you to the finish line (that is, if you ever even reached the finish line)?
Psychologists have long pondered these questions and recent research may have revealed some insight. Five experiments were used to investigate this phenomenon of the human psyche by Olya Bullard and Rajesh V. Manchanda from the University of Winnipeg, and it seems there’s a switch in motivation that happens during the process of completing a goal.
Long story short, it was found that in the beginning, it’s what’s going to happen that keeps people going. Closer to the end, it’s what won’t be happening that keeps people going.
To elaborate, the authors found that, at the offset (or when less than 25% of the work is done), people are motivated by what will be reached by completing the goal. The positivity lying in the things that will happen once the task is completed is what motivates people to start and continue their tasks – this is referred to as ‘promotion-focused’ motivation. For example, if you’re tasked with creating a more efficient template that simplifies the tracking and analysis of your marketing team’s efforts, the theory suggests that you think of all the benefits the marketing team will experience once the task is completed, like time-saving, less use of resources, happy employees, and even the personal and public sense of achievement.
Towards the end (or when more than 75% of the work is done), however, the authors found that people concentrate on what will be lost if the goal isn’t reached. In other words, they place importance on the negative repercussions of an incomplete job. This is called ‘prevention-focused’ motivation. For example, closer to the end, what keeps you going is the fact that the marketing team will suffer without the tool and people will see you as a failure.
This insight is valuable to marketers, salespeople, and even leaders at work, who can use different motivational strategies to convert consumers, clients, or employees who are in different stages of completing goals. For someone that's just started, remind them of the benefits of following through. For someone who has almost reached the goal, remind them about what they'll lose out on if they don't finish. Because this doesn't necessarily work: (1) think of how much you've already done, you might as well finish now, nor (2) think of how you feel now that you've come this far, think of how you'll feel when you reach your goal.
As with anything in the social sciences, this approach isn’t guaranteed to be effective all the time every time. But as a manager, marketer, or trainer, it is interesting and worth investigating in order to better understand how people stay motivated so that we can retain their motivation throughout.
Read more about motivation: