Book Review: Why Motivating People Doesn’t Work

I wish I could have read “Why Motivating People Doesn’t Work…and What Does” by Susan Fowler at the start of my career. It would have been helpful to not only learn the concepts but also to be coached in their practice. I have gleaned some of this information from mentors and coaches, such as: “money is only a de-motivator”. and “when you meet with your direct reports, it is about them, not you”.

Fowlwr - Motivating people

This book places these concepts into an organized framework that lays out step-by-step how to improve engagement and performance without using tired and counter-productive concepts that we have been told will “motivate” employees.

Here’s a sampling from the book:

Leadership is not a role; leadership is a practice…When you practice leadership you invest the emotional labor required to observe what your people are experiencing, how they are feeling and why – and then discuss it with them…

Employees probably spend more of their waking hours connected to work and interacting with their coworkers than with family members. Yet managers believe their actions are not personal and just business….Whatever your beliefs, one thing is true: what you say and do feels personal to the people you lead…

When you hold the belief that making money is the purpose of business, you are likely to focus on dashboard metrics instead of focusing on the people responsible for providing quality service to your customers and clients…

In education there is a rising emphasis on test scores and there is a rising backlash against them, I could never quite describe my instinct that bashing teachers for delivering poor test scores is completely counter-productive. This book explains why.

An old sports analogy works equally well in business: focusing on profit is like playing the game with your eye on the scoreboard instead of the ball.

Substitute “education” for “business” and “test scores” for “profit”, and the quote works just as well.

So what does motivate employees (and, by extension, students)? Autonomy, relationships, and competence. The book delves deeply into each concept and it provides practical advice about how to put them into practice.


  1. An Authoritarian Education | FiscalShare - January 1, 2015

    […] these are children you say. They need to be led and guided. Thinking back to the book  “Why Motivating People Doesn’t Work…and What Does” by Susan Fowler, it is not just adults that need autonomy, relationship and […]

  2. Book Review: Magic Words by Tim David | FiscalShare - January 4, 2015

    […] book is actually a great supplement to the book I recently reviewed: Why Motivating People Doesn’t Work. In that book Susan Fowler states that people are looking for autonomy, relationship and […]

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