The magic triangle

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Coaching Skills Series

This is one of many articles I intend to post this year considering the range of principles, skills and experiences you’ll need to be an effective coaching manager for the people in your team.

This post is about three crucial factors in motivation. Next time we’ll look at the things that prevent people from working to their potential.

Performance, Learning and Enjoyment
Performance, Learning and Enjoyment – The Magic Triangle

Performance, Learning and Enjoyment – The Magic Triangle

I want to return to a subject dear to the heart of any people manager: motivation. Only this time I want to consider how a knowledge of motivation can become a guiding principle for effective coaches.

In previous posts I’ve set out a range of both external and internal motivators and the various theories that can help us provide a climate in which motivation can flourish. We know that the internal group tends to motivate over the longer term but that organizations spend more time fretting over the external set. This irony is extended when we consider how much more costly the external set are to provide. As coaches we have much more power to work with the internal set as these are felt or experienced by the employee whereas the external set are provided by the organisation and probably beyond our sphere of control.


There are internal motivators like pride, satisfaction, accomplishment, sense of achievement and so on which I like to group together as being matters of performance. There are then internal motivators such as curiosity, acquiring new skills, moving outside of comfort zones and trying new things. These we can group as being matters of learning. Finally we can consider internal motivators such as fun, finding work pleasant and enjoying the company of our colleagues as being matters of enjoyment. Thus the wide variety of internal motivators can be made easier to work with by being summarized as performance, learning and enjoyment (PLE) and I like to show them arranged on a triangle as above.


The real trick here is to use coaching to keep a healthy balance of the three. Any one of the three which is over-stressed at the expense of the others leads to demotivation. Most people experience this when performance becomes all consuming. They have targets and standards and key performance indicators fired at them constantly and any sense of learning and enjoyment disappears. Doing a good job and hitting targets – performing – is highly motivating, but not without learning and enjoyment as well. I see this as all too common and have a theory that people join organizations on the expectation of PLE in balance and leave because learning and enjoyment disappears.


It is also possible to create an over balance by having too much learning. Becoming more skilled, learning new technology and trying new things is great, but not if we never get a chance to put what we learn into practice or if the working atmosphere is so sour that we’re still just a miserable as before. Believe it or not you can also upset internal motivation by having too much enjoyment. Of course it’s great to work in a nice, fun atmosphere, but not if we’re given meaningless tasks and nothing ever changes.


I will always maintain that coaching at work is about performance improvement, but what makes it so more effective than other development approaches is that it is hugely insightful for the person being coached and – when done well – is a highly enjoyable process.


Coaching’s aims and intentions are at the dead centre of the PLE triangle.


Matt Somers

Matt Somers

Matt Somers is the UK’s leading trainer of managers as coaches. His coaching skills training programmes, books, articles and seminars have helped thousands of managers achieve outstanding results through their people.

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