By Carol Haig, CPT, and Roger Addison, CPT, EdD

We are delighted to welcome Dr. Jimmy, the expert’s expert, to TrendSpotters this month. By all accounts a brilliant student, Dr. Jimmy,, relates that he mastered Latin, Greek, Yiddish, and Svengali before attending college. He then helped his university classify several new species and aided a number of restaurants in the naming of nouveau-kosher dishes before he earned his EdD. Dr. Jimmy’s studies focused on understanding how the human brain functions, how people work in complex situations, and how they maximize their motivation and experience. He graciously contributes his 4 Motivational Switches tool to the TrendSpotters Open Toolkit (TOT).

Genesis of the 4 Motivational Switches
The 4 Motivational Switches tool presents a view of how the human brain operates when we consider committing effort to a particular activity or goal. Dr. Jimmy’s doctoral studies under Richard Clark at the University of Southern California piqued his interest in Dr. Clark’s work in the areas of commitment and effort. Dr. Jimmy explored these two areas and their impact on executive performance in his research “Are Executives Overconfident?” The tool is an outgrowth of this work.

Description of the 4 Motivational Switches
Let’s begin by thinking of our brains as having four built-in switches. The switches take the form of four simple questions that we consciously or subconsciously ask ourselves when we consider taking on a task or action:

  1. Do I understand what’s being asked of me?
  2. Can I do it? This is often called “self-efficacy,” meaning the person is making an assessment of his or her inherent ability to be successful.
  3. May I do it? This time, call it “self-efficacy #2,” which takes the form of “Will I be permitted?” In this case, the person is assessing whether the organization will provide the right support, resources, guidance, and incentives to allow him or her to be successful.
  4. Do I feel like it? This is an assessment of value. The value may be extrinsic or intrinsic, but the person weighs it against the values of the other tasks in his or her mental queue to see if the new task is worth the effort.

Dr. Jimmy tells us that the four questions are always mentally processed in the same order, and, if just one of the switches flips to the “Off” position, indicating a “No” answer, commitment to the task stops.

As you look at the 4 Motivational Switches, you will see that the tool aligns with a number of well-known human performance technology (HPT) models, in particular Gilbert’s Behavior Engineering Model and Rummler’s Human Performance System.

How to Use the 4 Motivational Switches
All human beings use the 4 Switches in the same way all the time (Ajzen, 2002; Bandura, 1982; and Latham & Lee), so we do not need to provide instructions for them. What we can do instead is explore how knowing about the 4 Motivational Switches can support buy-in and organizational success in any number of situations.

As an organizational development and alignment tool:

  • Managers and supervisors should check to be sure that employees understand the task or action requested, and provide additional support if it is particularly difficult.
  • If the workers asked to complete the task or action are not able to accurately assess their ability to perform, then providing a supporting tool or a competency model may help them.
  • In this context, being permitted to complete a task refers to having the right tools, resources, and organizational support to be successful.
  • “Do I feel like it?” is an incentive question fueled by a combination of organizational functions: management, human resources, finance, legal.

For new hire orientation:

  • The 4 Motivational Switches tool lends itself to a form of Socratic inquiry appropriate for orientation. We begin with a business goal, address each of the 4 switches, and conclude with a value statement about incentives for new employees.

As a planning tool:

  • Once we understand the organization’s goals, we can then ask if we have each of the 4 switches covered. If any are not, we can identify who is responsible and have him or her provide the needed coverage.

As a diagnostic tool:

  • If an individual or team is not performing to standard, we can review the 4 Motivational Switches to find out why.

Success Story
Dr. Jimmy reminds us that all human beings are wired with the 4 Motivational Switches, so success comes to everyone, every day, at work and in our personal lives. Whatever we are doing–writing a report, planning a vacation, or deciding to stop smoking–we use the 4 switches.

It is useful to know that while we are looking at the same series of four questions, they may not always produce the same answers. This is because the events of each day generate new information that requires us to adjust our priorities. A goal or task from yesterday might have less value today because something has changed the answer to the fourth question about worth. It is like having a lifetime bucket list: The items on it will change as we shift the priorities in related areas of our lives.

Advice to Users
Some suggestions from Dr. Jimmy for users of the 4 Motivational Switches:

  • Use the tool in conversation with your team. Because we all use the 4 switches, talking about them will help people to better understand themselves and, thus, grow and develop.
  • Consciously consider the 4 switches for yourself, particularly when tackling a new goal or task so that you can guide your own thinking with full awareness of the process you are using.
  • Download a free copy of the “Moxie Coefficient” from Proofpoint Systems. The “Moxie Coefficient is a research-based instrument to help people identify the point where their self-appraisals exceed likely performance. It is an objective way to determine if you and your team are ready to move forward with a challenging task. Use it as a template for understanding a specific work situation.

Links to the Performance Technology Landscape
The 4 Motivational Switches tool supports these principles of performance technology:

R Focus on Results–They enable a person to decide to commit to a goal.
S Take a System view–The 4 switches are systematic and are turned “On” or “Off” in a specific order.
V Add Value–They increase our understanding of how all humans approach goals or tasks.
P Establish Partnerships–The 4 switches can be used with team members or stakeholders to deepen understanding of shared goals and tasks.

Application Exercise
Choose a current or upcoming work project. Use the 4 Motivational Switches tool in one of the three ways suggested above in “Advice to Users.”

ISPI in Five Years?
This is a good place to consider the 4 Switches. We know ISPI has an understanding of the marketplace and the performance needs of organizations. Can we help them? Absolutely. Do we have the right support structures? No. Our current tools are almost all paper-based and are too slow for today’s business environment. Performance requires the right information and methodologies to enable the technology and to network all the great tools, models, and solutions our able professionals have developed over the years. ISPI could provide the foundation for an integrated performance system that could enable anyone to successfully use HPT tools and techniques to make a difference, leaving practicing performance improvement professionals to enhance their roles, becoming potent and powerful advisers. Do we feel like it? That is the million-dollar question for ISPI’s leadership–both Board and staff. If we embrace speed and technology, ISPI can be a powerhouse in five years with monumental success for the Society and its members.

Dr. Jimmy is the alter ego of Jim Hill, EdD, and first came to our attention as an Emerging Professional at the 2011 50th Anniversary ISPI conference in Toronto.

Ajzen, I. (2002). Perceived behavioral control, self-efficacy, locus of control, and the theory of planned behavior. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 32, 1-20.

Bandura, A. (1982). Self-efficacy mechanism in human agency. American Psychologist,37, 122-147.

Latham, G. P., & Lee, T. W. (1986). Goal setting. In E. A. Locke (ed.), Generalizing from laboratory to field settings. Lexington, MA: Lexington.

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You may contact Carol Haig at or at, and Roger Addison at