building outstanding life science sales & marketing teams


Why Intrinsic Motivation is Paramount

Why Intrinsic Motivation is Paramount

People do what they want to do, and for their own reasons. As well they should – why would you live a life in opposition to your values, and spend your days doing things you don’t care about?

Naturally, we all have to spend some of our time doing things we don’t like. You might hate the gym, but you still have to go. I hate admin, but I still have to do it. Doing things you don’t like now to reap better rewards later – that’s discipline.

Still, discipline is only effective when you care about and are personally invested in the outcomes that discipline will produce.

So let’s talk about this in the context of employment. The more your employees are engaged and aligned with their work, the more they will thrive. The more they are personally motivated by and invested in what they are doing, the happier and more productive they will be.

I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know. But here’s what I do want to talk about – ‘happy ears’. If you’re not familiar with the expression, happy ears is when you hear what you want to hear, instead of what the other person is actually telling you. The bane of many an overly optimistic sales rep (and their manager).

‘Happy ears’ in action

Peter has spent two days poring through resumes, noting that most potential candidates are weak in one or another of the non-negotiable skills. And then he comes across an application which ticks all the right boxes; impeccable qualifications, relevant experience, outstanding references. This is the one; the perfect person for the job.

The interview scheduled for the following week is now merely a formality; such is his level of confidence in this person.

Peter’s dream candidate accepted the position, but resigned nine months later having missed all his targets, and with the worst sickness record in the history of the company. And it could have been avoided had Peter been more self-aware.

Where did Peter go wrong?

  • Peter failed to actually engage with the candidate, hearing only that which supported the views he had already formed, and blanking out everything else. He spent the entire time trying to squeeze a square peg into a round hole.
  • As his ‘happy ears’ interpreted what was said to suit their own expectations, assumptions and agenda, he didn’t pick up on the clues that suggested the candidate was heading for burn-out, and looking to move out of BD and secure a more routine work pattern.
  • He asked leading questions which essentially produced the answer he sought.
  • In his genuine desire to secure this candidate, Peter created a tidal wave of enthusiasm and expectation which swept both sides along until sanity was impossible.


Peter failed to account for the importance of intrinsic motivation. In his desperation to hire, he forgot that you can’t make someone else want to follow you. You can only present your vision, and your offering in a compelling light, and let them make their own judgement. Then you should listen very carefully indeed.

Ask yourself: what does this person really want? Do they have a genuine desire to do this work, to be a part of our mission, or are they just buying into the idealised picture that we’re painting for them? Or do they just need us for the short term?

Next time you fall in love with a candidate (or one of your prospects for that matter), sit back for a moment – and remember Peter’s Parable.

This article was written by Harrison Wright, Managing Director