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Stop Trusting Your Instincts

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Personal intuition is a strong feeling and one we cannot ignore easily. More often than not, following it serves us well. But are there times where ignoring it is a better option?

Could it be true that suppressing our intuition is best in certain situations? This is an interesting question in and of itself. After all, many of us have spent our lives reminding ourselves that “following our gut” is usually the way to go when it comes to making decisions. So many of us have been told since childhood that if something doesn’t feel right, chances are it’s probably not. We utilize this lesson in so many aspects of our lives when determining right from wrong, good from bad, truth from lie, fair from unfair, fight or flight and so on. In the end, it seems only natural that we navigate choices and situations through knowledge, reason and personal intuition.

Yet, according to Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, CEO of Hogan Assessments and Lewis Garrad, a chartered organizational psychologist, trusting your instincts when it comes to employee motivation is not a very good thing. In their article published in the Harvard Business Review, the biases and blindness present within personal intuition can hurt rather than improve motivation in the workplace. In fact, according to a study highlighted by Chamorro-Premuzic and Garrad, employee motivation drops rapidly when under poor management:

A global survey of more than 50 Fortune 1000 companies and 1.2 million employees showed that in a whopping 85% of organizations — remember, these are some of the best companies in the world — employee motivation declines sharply after people have spent six months with their managers. In other words, most employees are enthusiastic and engaged when they start their new jobs, but it takes only a few months for managers to destroy their morale.

This study is quite compelling and deserves reflection on behalf of any manager and/or company hoping to increase motivation and productivity in the workplace. What this study is telling us is that managers play a vital role in the happiness, contentment and success of their employees. So what is the solution? Which path should we choose and in what circumstance? To Chamorro-Premuzic and Garrad, managers must ignore their instincts and begin adopting an objective perspective on how to motivate employees. By utilizing data-driven information, the unfair, unexplained and unreasonable interpretations of yesterday can be replaced by numbers that lay down clear, non-subjective results.


© Flickr user Laenuflean

Chamorro-Premuzic and Garrad’s article goes on to define the four major reasons the typical motivational practices fail. They are highlighted below.

  • Simplicity in goal setting

    . . . research shows that stretch goals (ambitious targets) work well when the job is transactional and inputs and outcomes can be precisely defined. In contrast, when motivating someone who is working on a complex, intellectual, or creative task, asking people to “do their best” will produce better results.

  • Biased perfomance evaluations

    Most managers seem to have a natural proclivity to reward employees who are like them, perhaps as an indirect and legitimate way to admire themselves (a sort of narcissism by proxy). This leads to distorted evaluations of performance, harms diversity, and creates an unfair and highly political climate.

  • Boredom and poor job design

    . . . research tells us that extrinsic rewards (like money) do little to help buffer against demoralizing or dull tasks, and psychologists have shown that while challenging work can be exciting and motivating, demanding or boring work is draining no matter what. So, while many managers see their role as motivating people through pep talks, inspirational speeches, or pizza parties, the reality is that the best way a leader can drive motivation is by designing jobs well and putting people in the right roles.

  • Useless feedback

    There is an astonishing gap between the vast academic evidence for the importance of accurate, constructive feedback as a critical driver of motivation and performance and the poor quality of feedback most employees receive at work.

Trusting personal instinct is still an incredibly important tool to utilize in our lives. This article certainly shouldn’t diminish that. Instead, what we can derive from this information is the importance for distinguishing between the benefits our perceptions bring versus what they may derail. Perhaps it’s a gentle reminder that, while at times intuition can blind us, we also have the ability to navigate the path in a less subjective and more scientific manner.

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Ashley Lee

Ashley Lee

Ashley has been working with the AccelaWork team since 2008. She is a communications expert with a background in corporate work, and a graduate of the University of Dayton with a degree in Public Relations. She lives in the greater Indianapolis area with her husband and four children. Ashley enjoys jewelry, fashion, and coffee.
Ashley Lee

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