DEI Club

Unfolding Motivation

Engaging leaders in a sustainable way

Rewarding and incentivizing leaders for DEI work is a common strategy to ensure they prioritize it. However, as soon as we offer an extrinsic reward - bonus, award, or feedback - the focus shifts from the work itself to the reward. This can result in DEI work becoming transactional, potentially undermining the intrinsic motivation for the work itself. So, what can we do instead?

A common answer is to 'use data'. But honestly, when was the last time you felt highly motivated after seeing data?

Yet another typical response, originating from change management, suggests that we prioritize influencing undecided individuals regarding DEI through enthusiasts, while disregarding resistors

Both pieces of advice are fine, but can they stand alone? To work effectively with there are several nuances to be considered:

Nuance #1: Motivation comes in various forms

We can be motivated to varying degrees and by different things - internal and external. The strongest form of motivation is intrinsic where we engage in an activity for its own sake, because it's exciting or enjoyable. Striving to make (all) leaders intrinsically motivated to work on DEI is probably a bit too ambitious.

Consequence: A more realistic approach is to aim for cultivating 'integrated motivation,' which involves engaging in tasks because they align with personal values, are deemed necessary, and contribute to a positive outcome, often benefiting others or the community's well-being.

Nuance #2: Motivation is personal, complex, and individual
Diversity is precisely about people being different. What engages one person may not necessarily engage another. Effective motivational strategies depend on understanding the leader's drivers and the task-specific motivation levels.

Consequence: Embrace flexible strategies that honor individuals' preference for autonomy and choices. Let leaders choose from supportive resources and adapt them to their team's circumstances, needs, and readiness. This approach allows leaders to feel empowered in their DEI efforts, fostering a sense of ownership and commitment.

Nuance #3: Inner motivation is stimulated by empowerment
From psychological theory, we know that people typically respond with resistance if they are pressured into something or feel controlled (reactance). For example, when we force leaders to participate in mandatory training. The more we try to push people in a certain direction, the more natural it will be for them to push back or to resist.

Consequence: Empower leaders by granting them agency, valuing their perspectives even amidst disagreement, and demonstrating patience. Create safe spaces for leaders to voice unpopular opinions without fear of judgment, as this nurtures an environment of openness and constructive discourse. This approach empowers leaders to challenge and reevaluate their beliefs and biases.

Nuance #4: The experience of mastery or competence affects motivation
It’s common to kick off DEI work by informing leaders that their level of competence may not match their perceived abilities (through bias tests, rating scales, etc.). Because we want to get the point across that we all tend to overestimate how inclusive we are. It's crucial not to let this "aha" moment linger though. Most individuals aspire to competence and want advice on what they can do to support.

Consequence: Ensure that leaders have opportunities to build competence no matter what their starting point is.

Nuance #5: Although motivation is personal, we are all socially motivated
When people feel a sense of connection to others, their motivation tends to increase. For instance, being surrounded by enthusiastic peers can be contagious, leading to a shared sense of motivation. Similarly, the behavioral science concept of ‘social proof’ demonstrates how observing others, especially peers, engage in certain (inclusive) behaviors can encourage individuals to follow suit.

Consequence: Facilitating opportunities for leaders to learn alongside their peers and draw inspiration from each other is essential. Furthermore, highlighting exemplary leaders who excel in promoting DEI initiatives and illustrating why their approaches are successful serves as valuable inspiration for others.

Nuance #6: We can act our way into motivation
Sometimes, motivation emerges as a result of our actions, such as when we hire a candidate we would not normally have hired or when we actively seek out the perspectives of colleagues that we know will challenge our viewpoints. This often occurs when we step outside our comfort zone and embrace new experiences, even if initially skeptical. Exploring unfamiliar opportunities can lead to positive outcomes and valuable insights, further fueling our motivation to continue experimenting and growing.

Consequence: Using too many vague or abstract terms about DEI can diminish people's likelihood of taking action. Conversely, by making DEI work easy, concrete, and well-defined, we increase the probability of action. Small, focused personal experiments, for example, can, over time, yield much greater progress than grand ambitions. By encouraging such experiments, we enhance the likelihood of creating a positive feedback loop, where action breeds motivation and motivation breeds further action.

Nuance #7: Motivation is fueled by emotions and is less sustainable if strictly rational
It is not uncommon that high motivation for DEI stems from deeply personal and emotional reasons rather than purely rational considerations. For many leaders, the drive to advocate for DEI can be fueled by their personal experiences, such as having family members, spouses, or children who have faced discrimination or injustice. These experiences evoke empathy, compassion, and a sense of justice, which become catalysts for sustained action and commitment.

Consequence: Encouraging leaders to share their personal experiences and emotional connections to DEI issues can help humanize the DEI conversation, making it more relatable and inspiring for others.

Nuance #8: The extent to which we perceive something as meaningful influences our motivation
To feel motivated, we must find an activity meaningful. If we lack understanding or disagree with its significance, generating motivation becomes challenging. In such cases, activities will be completed out of a sense of obligation, devoid of autonomy or connection. There are numerous avenues to discovering meaning. It can emerge through action and firsthand experience, through reflection and dialogue, through intellectual reasoning, or through active engagement.

Consequence: Each of the seven nuances explored above provided inspiration for cultivating a sense of meaning in DEI efforts. - Through action and experimentation, involvement, and open dialogue, individuals can derive greater meaning from their involvement in DEI initiatives.