Motivation & the incredible Yukon K-Sam

We all know about the importance of Knowledge, Skills and Abilities–the famous “KSAs” that are touted as important to a workplace. Over Starbucks this morning with an executive from a corporation in Canada’s Yukon we concluded that KSAs are for nought without Motivation–or–putting it together, having “KSAM.”

Reflecting on KSAM I shared my own experience with past employees. A person gets hired or transferred in. Lots of the”right” KSAs. But zip for motivation. No fire in the belly. The result? Things get done, they get done satisfactorily, but something is missing–the motivation to go beyond good and good enough to outstanding.

Or, conversely, and I luckily had plenty of examples on my team, an employee is provided responsibilities and held accountable for tasks that are a tad beyond their KSAs. The results? With encouragement and ongoing mentoring the inherent motivation to learn, to explore, and to exceed expectations flourishes.

So, ideally we need to go beyond KSAs and seek KSAMs. Can motivation be taught, instilled, encouraged? My Yukon executive and I had trouble reaching a conclusion. There are mountains of books, journal articles, and consultants preaching motivation. Inherrently my experience is that while motivation can be encouraged and rewarded in an intrinsic sort of way, it really depends on a person’s attitude.

Attitude is the collection of long experiences, education, training,  gender, age, faith, ethnicity and a constellation of factors that shape who we are. Attitude is very hard to change once it is cemented into our consciousness and subconsciousness. Behavior is another thing. Certainly our behavior is an extension of our attitude. But behavior can be quickly changed with the “right” incentives and disincentives. Over time, maybe continued change in behaviors will influence our attitude. But sadly, in the workplace, not so much. A racist, sexist bully will quickly change their behavior when facing quick and clear consequences. But their attitude, if anything, can be strengthened even more as a rebellion. And so they simply go back to who they really are.

I wonder if it’s the same with motivation. One thing for sure, KSAs without the big M of motivation just leaves the equation unfinished.

One thought on “Motivation & the incredible Yukon K-Sam

  1. Motivation is a complex (-smile-) subject. Every human being in a workplace is motivated–the question is by what. And, more challenging, how can an employer encourage and leverage healthy motivations while dampening unhealthy or destructive motivation. In my experience, many managers and leaders are rather ham fisted when addressing employee motivation, making rather simplistic assumptions about money, for example. (When they think about motivation at all.)

    I have appreciated the work of Dan Pink, esp. as he summarizes it in this RSA Animate YouTube clip: He paints a compelling picture (rather literally in the clip) about getting past the carrot and stick thinking that has dominated much of the motivation conversation, arguing that social research indicates that human beings are motivated by “autonomy, mastery and purpose.” Senior leaders and managers would do well, I think to reflect on where and how in their organizations their staff are able to experience and pursue autonomy, mastery and purpose. IMHO. 🙂


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