Assessing Motivation – Peeling Back the Layers of the Complex Human

While I often talk about personality, there are many additional layers that form the complex human spectrum, one of which is motivation.  Some people call it values, but I like motivations. Values, to me, is laden with moral implications and so I’ll refer to motivations.

While personality explains the HOW of our behaviors, motivations explain the WHY of our behaviors.

In the assessment that I use to measure motivations, the assessee gets scores on 7 motivations: Aesthetic, Economic, Individualistic, Political, Altruist, Regulatory, Theoretical.  Rather than look at the individual scores of each of these, the important task is to look at which you rank the highest and which you rank the lowest.

Two Sales People, the Altruist and the Economic

Sally and John, both in sales, had similar Big Five personality profiles – both score high in Resilience, Extraversion, and Conscientiousness, moderate in Openness, low in Agreeableness.  While both were drawing in a similar number of new clients each month, Sally continually delivered a higher profit margin. Not understanding the disparity in results between such similar personalities, I decided to administer a Motivations assessment.  The scores on the Motivations assessment provided clarity on the difference in their metrics.  Sally’s assessment shows that her top value is Economic (motivated by money, practical results, and return on investment), while John’s top value is Altruism (motivated by altruism, service, and helping others) and his lowest is Economic.  John’s Altruism combined with a lack of Economic motivation means that he is motivated to help the customer, be giving, and less motivated by earning more money.  Therefore, he naturally gives away more discounts to his clients than Sally does.  She is motivated more by increasing her income and bringing a good return for the company.

Because John is less motivated by Economics and places a high value on Altruism, he may require specific direction or boundaries in regards to discount offers. It may also assist in selecting his prospects.  For example, John may be more excited to sell to hospitals, schools, non-profits – those whose missions mirror his motivations.  Likewise, Sally may be more excited to sell to banks and large corporate companies with deep pockets.


A small technology firm with 3 equity partners engaged Narrative to hire someone in a Network Technician position and in a Design Analyst position.  We defined both a Narrative Big Five target profile and a Motivations profile for each job.  As part of the preparation for this engagement, I assessed the firm’s three equity partners on both the Narrative Big Five and the Motivations Assessment.

Much like the previous example, the 3 partners mostly scored in a range that typically indicates a natural leader, and yet their underlying motivations helped to differentiate their behavior.  Jim and Mary ranked low on Individualistic (motivated by independence and appearing unique) and high on Theoretical (motivated by attaining knowledge and understanding) where Simon ranked high on Individualistic (motivated by independence and appearing unique) and high on Political (motivated by power and influence).  Not long after I started working with them, Simon left the firm to start his own business.  While his motivation scores probably weren’t the only reason that he left, they may have influenced his desire to lead a company of his own.

The message in this example is different than everyone in leadership or a team or a company should have the same motivations; diversity can be very beneficial.  In fact, the primary focus of defining any target profile when hiring, is to look at what the job requires, then the culture and who they report to are secondary considerations.

In summary, these two examples show that motivations – WHY someone behaves the way they do, gave us more differentiating information than their Narrative Big Five personality traits.  Sometimes it is the other way around.  We could also talk about other layers, such as intelligence, skills, experience, and more.  All of these layers make up the how’s, why’s, and what’s of an individual’s behavior.  There are assessments for each of these layers, some very valuable and some less valuable.    Narrative administers several research-based assessments and applies the information gained to learning, coaching, team training, hiring, and more.

Important Information

When using assessments, it is important to note that all scores are good.  However, there are specific traits and motivations that will match a particular job better than others.  Those who do not match the target profiles can still perform well in the job; the job may take more energy from them than someone who matches it well.  Also, the job is the level at which you should try to match profiles.  While important, culture and who they work for are secondary considerations.

Are you ready to peel back the deeper layers of your leaders, managers and teams? Or to profile your main positions and match them in your hiring process? Contact Claro Leaders, claro(at), for more information.

Narrative CEO Caryn Lee