Can motivation be coached?

Paul Nolan

When I wrote about former New York Knicks coach Jeff Van Gundy in this space in 2014, I thought it was a one-off. Van Gundy is a smart basketball mind who now shares his insights as an NBA analyst on TV broadcasts. As far as I know, he’s not a brilliant business mind, so I didn’t think there would be cause to share his wisdom here again.

But the other night, Van Gundy was asked whether having a veteran player like guard Jimmy Butler on the Minnesota Timberwolves this year would help motivate a younger player like Andrew Wiggins to work harder. By all accounts, Wiggins, a fourth-year pro, has world-class talent, but has yet to put a complete game together.

Van Gundy didn’t pause. “The only motivation that can make you great is self-motivation,” he said.

I heard the same thing from those I spoke with about keeping salespeople motivated. “Motivation is intrinsic,” said Manny Medina, an entrepreneur who was employee No. 3 on Amazon’s Web Services team and also worked for Microsoft before starting his own company. “Sales is competition. Our job is to give them the confidence to be winners.”

Bill Bartlett, author of “The Sales Coach’s Playbook: Breaking the Performance Code,” went even further, expressing his disdain for short-term incentives. “External motivation is a lazy way to motivate salespeople and it only works for a short period of time,” Bartlett stated. “The problem with short-term incentives is that they have to keep escalating to be effective.”

Successful salespeople, Bartlett says, work on the rule of 3 and 2: Every day, they work on three professional goals to make them stronger in their job and two personal goals to strengthen their self-worth. “Hire motivated salespeople,” he exclaims. “If they don’t bring it to the job, they won’t find it there.”

A lot of managers would probably agree to disagree with Bartlett’s stance against incentives, but they wouldn’t argue with the importance of hiring salespeople who are self-driven.

Our cover story — and this issue overall — is full of good advice from sales and marketing professionals like Medina and Bartlett. It’s a great way to start another year. We’re always happy you’re with us.