Although everyone is concerned at various times with both promotion and prevention, most people have a dominant motivational focus.  It affects where attention is placed, what is valued, and how someone feels if they succeed or fail.   It determines both strengths and weaknesses, personally and professionally.

To an extent, this can be a predictor of performance in a given area of endeavour.  The exceptions are individuals who have made a concerted effort to understand any weaknesses and work on them, or are naturally able to switch focus at will.

Studies show that prevention-focused individuals are likely to take up what might be called “conventional and realistic” work, such as manufacturing, administration, bookkeeping, accounting, technical work, analytical work and engineering.  These occupations require knowledge of rules and regulations, careful execution, and a propensity for thoroughness—they are jobs in which attention to detail is what really pays off.

The promotion-focused are likely to pursue “artistic and investigative” careers, as musicians, copywriters, sales executives, marketers, business developers, inventors, and consultants.  These tend to be think-outside-the-box jobs, in which people are rewarded for creative and innovative thinking, and being practical isn’t emphasised.

“Hybrids” are people who can do both.  For example, a software developer (technical person) who carries out business development for a company’s software portfolio (sales).

Thus, in thinking about performance, is an individual or a team’s dominant focus going to fit with the task/s or project/s they’ve been assigned?


Once you know your focus, you can choose role models, frame goals, seek or give feedback, and provide incentives that will strengthen your motivation or your team’s.  Motivational fit enhances and sustains both the eagerness of the promotion-minded and the vigilance of the prevention-minded, making work seem more valuable and thus boosting both performance and enjoyment. When the motivational strategies we use don’t align with our dominant focus, we are less likely to achieve our goals.


With acknowledgement to the work of Heidi Grant Halvorson, Ph.D. and Jonathan Halvorson, Ph.D