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How to Uncover Self-Motivated High Performers



Culture. It’s all about building great work culture.


Well, yes. And no.


Because, now, it really ought to be about building a business with purpose. And hiring people that buy into that purpose. But whatever your ‘why’ – the reason you do what you do and your business does what it does – you are more likely than ever looking for self-motivators; employees and contemporaries that understand what it takes to work independently.


As the working environment shifts to blend office with remote, so employers’ expectations move too. The opportunity for reactivity provisioned by traditional working practice is eroding. Management styles are changing, employees want different conditions and so the culture begins to take on a new dynamic.


Engagement is key when fostering a motivated workforce, and many businesses are reporting a reduction in this. And it makes sense: if we’re less visible, aren’t we less accountable? Of course, motivation and skills are not necessarily entwined. One can exist without the other. But it’s much harder to train motivation. And harder still to identify it.


So how do you uncover the self-motivated high performers?


First it should be noted that self-motivation to achieve takes a certain mindset. And there are two types: fixed and growth.


Those with a fixed mindset believe that talent is ingrained, and we cannot change our level of ability.


Those with a growth mindset believe that they can improve their skills through hard work and effort.


Research shows that those falling into the ‘growth’ category are far more likely to achieve their goals, which in turn should align with high performance. Therefore, a growth mindset is our first identifier.


Self-motivated people tend to be full of initiative. They are inquisitive, resourceful, enjoy solving problems and take opportunities when they come. Questions during interviews or appraisals should, therefore, encourage answers that accentuate these elements. Quiz current affairs, the resolution of a big challenge and metaphorical alchemy.


Optimism and resilience are two key traits of self-motivation. People able to use their ability to think to manage negative emotional responses to events, are invaluable in a remote working environment. They don’t require as much ongoing emotional empathy and will generally tackle challenges themselves. So, watch out for anyone whose work or recreational life is generally within a rigid supportive structure.

For years, businesses have relied on competency and behavioural-based interviewing. Often these questions are fundamentally flawed, lead the candidate to the right answer and can create bias in assessment.


For example:


Q: Tell me about a time when you had to meet a deadline.


Most candidates will have many examples of meeting a deadline that paint them in a positive light. Some will be able to talk at length about organisational methods and tools that can be used. Often, good answers will be received, but you will not have learned about what motivates them and how they solve problems.


Some interviewers like the person who delivers the answer best, others penalise candidates for not following the STAR (situation, task, action, and result) method. Any prepared candidate will know that the right answer is that the result of their actions meant that the deadline was met and there was a happy ending.


Q: What are your weaknesses?


Typically, candidates list a few weaknesses that they turn into strengths and most savvy candidates have prepared answers to this in advance. How confident are you that these really are their weaknesses? You have no idea about their self-awareness or proactivity in upskilling.

If you want highly engaged, self-motivated people joining your team, then you need to think carefully about structuring your interview and the questions within it.


Motivation-based interviewing is designed to assess a candidate’s locus of control (the degree to which people believe that they, as opposed to external forces (beyond their influence), have control over the outcome of events in their lives) alongside their essential skills. Self-motivated ‘A-players’ have a predominant internal locus of control. These are the high performing people you wanted pre-COVID and they needed now.


People with an external locus of control are more like to blame others, make excuses or be in denial that they could have done more to overcome a challenge. You want to identify these candidates and avoid hiring them.


By identifying the candidates who have a stronger locus of control, you’ll hire people who are much more engaged and better performers.


For example:


Q: “Tell me about a specific time you had to work to ambitious sales targets in a difficult market.”


Even the best salespeople won’t always hit targets in difficult markets and some lower performers will hit them purely out of luck. Your high performers will outline the many steps and creative approaches the took whether or not they hit the target, whereas lower performers are more likely to talk about the market conditions, how hard it was, that there was not much that could be done about it as it was out of their control.

To improve your quality of engaged, self-motivated and natural problem solvers, bear the following interview techniques in mind:

  • Hire for purpose, not culture – culture should be defined by your people, not you

  • Hiring needs to be structured – ensure you ask the same questions of everyone

  • Interview questions should be specific – one size does not fit all

  • Evoke provocation – include questions designed to test motivation levels when faced with challenges

  • Find synergy – Identify a match between the candidates’ motivations and the role

This preparation will help you be confident your hiring the best people, improve quality of hire, reduce staff turnover and build a culture of self-motivation and resilience.

Lucent recruiters are Certified Interviewers. If you’d like some help designing your interview questions or hiring process, please get in touch.

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