Whenever you’re dealing with complex and entangled issues of human behavior (and honestly, when AREN’T you?), there are three words that can help you find a path to clarity, insight, and positive action. The latest episode of my #ArtsManaged video series shares these words and takes them for a spin.
The (spoiler alert) Motivation Opportunity Ability framework began in the advertising literature, with Batra and Ray 1986 and MacInnis, Moorman, and Jaworski 1991 as early sources. Follow-on adaptations explored the framework in environmental communication, social issue behavior, strategic human resources, and elsewhere (sometimes with the three words in a different order). And I find it to be a reliable and powerful lens through which to explore human behavior, and the various barriers to productive or preferred behavior by individuals and groups.
Take a look to see if you agree!
What if I told you there were three magic words that can help you in all 10 functions of Arts Management? That would help you observe with clarity, analyze with intention, and act with purpose in ways that advance the work of your Arts and Cultural Organization? Would you want to know what they were?
Hi, I’m Andrew Taylor. I’m on the faculty of Arts Management at American University in Washington, DC. And this is ArtsManaged, a series of resources about Arts Management: what it is, how it works, how you might get better at it.
This video is about the three magic words that I keep coming back to in my consulting work and my teaching and my writing and research. They are three words that really help you bring clarity to the way you observe the actions of the people around you, and your own actions. They help you analyze those actions and think through how you might act in positive and productive ways in response.
So to cut to the chase, the three magic words are motivation, opportunity, and ability.
They come from a framework that originally started in the advertising world, but then branched out into multiple domains: including environmental practice, how do we get people to individually and collectively act in ways that are more productive for the environment? Or in social marketing, which is how do we get people to make choices that are positive for themselves and for their community? Like brushing their teeth. Like buckling their seatbelts when they get in the car.
So let’s think of three examples in the Arts Management world that might lead you to the Motivation Opportunity Ability framework. Those three functions are going to be MARKETING, or the communications and amplification of value in the world around you to do things like encouraging ticket sales or participation or engagement. The second is going to be GIFTS AND GRANTS. So that’s the development or fundraising function, encouraging people to contribute their income, their time, talent, and treasure toward your organization. And the third is PEOPLE OPERATIONS, which is finding engaging and animating people toward positive work as part of the team.
In each of these cases, you have very complex human behaviors you have to understand as a manager. You have to figure out “Well, what actions can I take, since I can’t take all actions, and I don’t have all the money in the world?” “How am I going to make choices about where and how to act in ways that encourage positive outcomes?”
So enough about the context. Let’s talk about the framework.
The three magic words are obviously the ones in the name of this framework: motivation, opportunity, ability. And they’re magic because they help you unbundle and decipher really complex human behavior in ways that help you act in the world, that help you practice the aggregation and animation of people in particular. So let’s take each of them in turn.
MOTIVATION is about whether or not the person is motivated toward the action or toward stopping the action that you have in mind. What is their desire, their purpose, their connection to this action? How is it reinforced or discouraged by social norms, by the actions of their peers or reference individuals they look to in the world for guidance? How are they pulled in or pushed away from the idea of this action in their motivational constructs?
OPPORTUNITY encourages a focus on external or environmental factors. What are the bridges to or barriers from the action you have in mind. So opportunity is about whether or not this person is able because of their external circumstances to achieve the goal you’ve set for them or they set for themselves. There are things in their way. There are distractions. There’s not enough external resources. They don’t have the tools to do the work, or the world around them is not set up in a way to facilitate their best performance in that area.
And then finally, ABILITY is about the internal capacities of the individual to do the thing you have in mind. Do they have the skills, the knowledge, the abilities, the capacity, the behavior, the insight, to do the thing effectively in the world, or do they not?
And the benefit of these three words is that they help you break down what is often a big mess of a problem into at least three separate messes. And each suggests a particular tactic or action to take.
So let’s return to the three functions I mentioned at the beginning of this video and see where the MOA framework might do its magic.
The first is the Marketing function. And here you can imagine a goal being: let’s increase the engagement of people in the work of our arts organization. That might mean increased ticket sales or event or participation or online engagement of various kinds. And the MOA framework first suggests we flip the script and not ask how do we get more people to do this thing, but rather, what is KEEPING people from doing this thing? What is the block that might be released so that they might join us in more meaningful and connected ways?
And the first question we’d ask is: Is there motivation? Are the people we’re seeking to engage with us motivated? Do they care? Do they have underlying assumptions and beliefs that would lead them to think experience in our work is important and meaningful for them? Do they have reference groups that go? Do their friends attend or not attend? Or the people they aspire to, are they attending or engaged in the work? There are many layers of motivation we might look into to explore whether or not we can increase or engage the motivation and drives of the population to engage in the work.
So the second way of looking at it is through opportunity. Even the most motivated person may not be able to participate in our organization the way we’d like. Because there’s external or environmental barriers for them to do so. It’s hard to find us downtown, there’s no parking, we’re not accessible in all the ways we might be to people. People lack the technology or the resources or the software to get access to the thing we’re offering into the world. If there’s an opportunity challenge, our focus becomes identifying and removing barriers to participation.
And the third lens is ability. And this is about the internal skills or capacities of the people we’re trying to serve. They may have issues around their knowledge, or their insight, their ability, even their habits around participating in work that we provide. And this can be solved or addressed or engaged through education, through learning, through changing the language we’re using to be more familiar or connectable for them, to finding multiple pathways for people to build the skills or insights or capacities to come to the work.
So again, we have motivation, opportunity, and ability that would block people from attending or participating in the work of our organization. And we have to think of them independently in order to engage the behavior we want in the world.
Next, let’s think about Gifts and Grants, the contributed income or development or fundraising component. And here again: motivation, opportunity, ability. The question becomes what’s keeping people from contributing to our organization? What is stopping them?
Is it a motivation? So they don’t have a deep belief in what we do and how it connects to what they value in the world? Is it an opportunity? Have we not asked them to give to us? Do we not have online systems or ways for people to give even if they want to? Is it easy and quick to find the way to contribute resources to our organization? And then there’s the ability lens. Even if someone has high motivation and perfect opportunity to give to our organization, they may not have the capacity to give: the financial resources, the time, the attention. And that’s a challenge for us to rethink what it is we’re asking and to align what we need as an organization to succeed with the abilities they bring to the work.
So here again, motivation, opportunity, and ability gave us three different lenses of looking at contributed income. To think differently about how do we remove the barriers that might be blocking people from full engagement of the work of our enterprise.
Finally, let’s look at the People Operations function or the Human Resource function. And here I find the Motivation Opportunity Ability framework to be particularly powerful. It really helps you unbundle and untangle a lot of hidden assumptions. And it leads you toward conversations that actually have positive and productive outcomes.
So let’s say, for example, somebody on the team is not showing up in the way you need them to. They’re either actually physically not showing up, or they’re showing up in ways that don’t seem fully engaged in the work. They’re missing deadlines. They’re missing performance outcomes. They’re missing shared assumptions that you thought you had with them about the work that needs to happen for the positive progression of the organization’s work and the team.
So here, the Motivation Opportunity Ability framework would suggest, okay, let’s unbundle this a bit. Let’s have conversations around three possible things that are blocking their full engagement, performance, success, and thriving in the work.
One of those things, obviously, is motivation. Are they not motivated to the tasks they’ve been given or have been assigned or have taken on themselves? Do they have beliefs or assumptions in their own life about the importance and connection of those actions to the world? Do they have peer references or social group references that suggest this work is really important and necessary and powerful and impactful? Have they not connected the dots between the work that they have been called to do and the work that the organization does? So “How does what I do in the world make a difference to the thing I care about?” Which might be the art form, or the artwork, or the audience being served.
Or it might be an opportunity: There’s external or environmental barriers blocking them from full performance. They don’t have the technology they need. You gave them a crappy computer. The software and that computer doesn’t work effectively. There are external factors that are blocking them from full performance. So even if they’re fully motivated, and they have full ability, they can’t deliver in a way you’ve asked them to and they know they want to.
And then finally, ability, which is about internal capacities. So, are they missing some skills, abilities, tendencies, capacities? Do they not have the habits that might be leading them toward positive engagement in a more consistent way over time? And if there’s an ability challenge, then you help them build those abilities through training, through support, through counseling, through coaching.
If you find yourself facing an issue or challenge of complex human behavior, which is pretty much everyday work for the arts manager, maybe think about these three magic words to help you find your way through: motivation, opportunity, and ability. Not only do they help untangle and decipher complex human behaviors, and also suggest positive outcomes or actions you might take to move forward. They also remind you to not necessarily push all the time, but sometimes to look for the barriers that are blocking people from their best performance, their positive engagement, or their full participation in the work.
And if you’re MOTIVATED to learn more about this framework, I’ve given you the OPPORTUNITY to connect to some external resources in the comment section of this website. So you can build your ABILITY to use it often and well.