Emotions Make Economic Sense

It’s just human nature that our thoughts and behaviors are based on our emotional value system.

Business, at its core, is nothing more than one or more people creating something of enough perceived value that one or more other people are willing to compensate them for it. On both sides of any economic equation are the humans who create value and the humans who need or desire what has been created. It is, as they say, what makes the world go ’round.

The ultimate coin in any economy is human emotion. Everything humans do, consciously or unconsciously, is rooted in emotion and belief. The actions we take, the thoughts and ideas we entertain and give energy to, the decisions we make, regardless of how rational or informed we believe them to be, all come down to how we want to feel and what we believe will make us feel that way.

If we value the feeling we associate with being praised we do things we believe will earn praise. If we value the feeling we associate with being needed we do things we believe will make us indispensable. If we value the feeling we associate with being certain we do things we believe will add certainty to our recommendations or decisions.

The same is true for what we choose not to do. If we believe a certain action or behavior would result in not feeling the way we want to feel we go to great lengths to avoid doing it.

Everything humans do, consciously or unconsciously, is rooted in emotion and belief.

This is also the basis for economic value. The value each individual places on any service or goods is based on their perceived benefit, and how we perceive benefit is based on how we want to feel after receiving the service or goods.

It’s just human nature that our thoughts and behaviors are based on our emotional value system. Successful marketers know it. Successful sales professionals know it. Successful UX/UI professionals know it. Successful leaders know it too.

While the old structure of leadership may ask, “We’re paying people to do a job, why should we be responsible for their feelings?” the successful leader embraces the nature of being human and says, “The greatest opportunity for me, my team, and my organization to succeed is to create a structure that is designed to make people feel the way they want to feel as part of doing the job they’re paid to do.”

The old thinking has led to a culture of fear-based motivation, or what I call “stick energy.” We threaten with the stick or the consequences of failing to meet the mark. Fear can create motivation, but that motivation only lasts as long as we’re in danger from the stick. Once we’ve accomplished enough to feel “safe” from consequences that motivation drains away, usually leaving resentment in its place.

Leadership in a human-driven economy will look for ways to motivate through “carrot energy.” When there is a clearly defined “carrot” or positive incentive in place then the motivation continues to rise the closer we get to the desired end result. While using the equivalent of a stick always results in oscillation between motivation and coasting, using the equivalent of the carrot results in sustainable motivation and drive toward the goal.

While leaders can easily get overwhelmed by thinking that the only way to motivate and harness human energy is to understand the psychological makeup of every person on their team, the truth is that every human is unique, but all humans share a universal value system for certain feelings.

We all value clarity of what we can expect and what is expected of us. We value feeling connected to places, people, and missions. We value the feeling of making meaningful contributions and being appreciated and considered. We value the feeling of being challenged to achieve and excel, and we value feeling confident. Therefore, when people have these emotional experiences in the workplace they have a higher value for being part of the organization.

I find that the framework of The Six Facets of Human Needs™ is an ideal foundation for any leader who understands the opportunity of harnessing human energy and is committed to creating that structure.

The emotional upheaval of the last two years has brought human emotional values into sharp focus. But it’s only served to make it even more imperative that we invest in creating structures that focus on basic human emotions and needs. There are so many ways to nurture, motivate, evolve, and elevate the humans in any business. But if their daily experience isn’t conducive to the emotional state that that is most valuable to them, they won’t emotionally engage in these initiatives enough to see any long-term return on the investment.

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