In a recent article, I wrote about motivation – and the importance of understanding what it is and how it works. As a brief recap in case you missed that article, motivation is an internal response that a person has to some internal drive or external stimulus.
In practical terms this means that one human being cannot motivate another one – so if you are a leader who is trying to motivate a team member, stop. You are focusing on the wrong thing - that is not where your influence as a leader lies.
Manage people performance by leveraging personal goals and drivers
Where you can have some influence is by working on the stimulus and response we mentioned above – what you can control is the stimulus part of that equation. As a leader, if you want people who are more motivated, you need to think about the stimulus each person is likely to respond to in a motivated way. Each person is different so motivating each individual means you need to understand what they are likely to respond to. That takes time and effort – and possibly some open discussions with them.
Once you do understand, you can now work to put those stimuli in the workplace environment around them.
Motivation at its most base level
Ultimately, human beings are motivated by two things – pleasure and pain (and it’s a very fine line apparently!) When your people respond in a motivated away to a stimulus you create in the environment, it is because:
- They find the stimulus pleasurable and move towards it
- They find the stimulus painful and so move away from it
In the workplace, we often hear a different way to describe this – the carrot or the stick
Now this isn’t an invitation to create enormous pain for your team – but it should give you an insight into why people respond. As we talk about specific motivations, ask yourself why they work – is it gaining of pleasure or avoidance of pain?
Towards and away motivators
Another difference between people is whether they respond more to ‘away’ motivations or ‘towards’ motivations:
- People who are more motivated by ‘away motivators react more strongly to the avoidance of pain
- People who are more motivated by towards motivators react more strongly to gaining pleasure
Don’t leap to the conclusions that your best people will be ‘towards’ motivators or that it is a negative thing to be motivated away from pain. Some of the most successful people we have ever worked with have been very strong ‘away’ motivation people – they are driven to success by things like fear of failure; concern about not providing for their family; not wanting to ‘look bad'; and fear of obscurity or ordinariness.
The key here is that someone who seems to motivated by an award may be driven by:
- The pleasure associated with the award – maybe recognition, self satisfaction, etc
- The pain of failure which drives them to strive for things that prove they have succeeded
Some specific motivational techniques that you could build into the work environment
Think about each individual in your team - what is likely to be motivating for each of them? This is just a sample of the strategies available to the manager who is leading consciously:
- Achievement: give your people plenty of chances to experience success. If you are working on big projects or tasks, set some interim benchmarks and celebrate those just as you would any other goal. If people feel they are never making progress, motivation and effort will drop.
- Recognition: which is much more than awards. 99% of recognition is simply going out of your way every day to let people that their efforts, contributions and results are noticed and appreciated.
- Concrete rewards: this is the motivational method most people think of - and it is often the hardest to give and the least effective.
- Flexibility: could you give up some control? Would it be possible to give your team more input into the decisions that impact their work lives? Some people will be highly motivated when they are trusted to manage the way they do their work - let them choose the HOW even if you still define the WHAT
- Contributing: how would you feel going to work every day and doing something that makes no difference? Excited? I didn't think so. Your people are no different - they want to feel that the work they do has meaning and that it contributes to something worthwhile. You can help them see that by sharing the big picture and by giving them plenty of feedback about the impact they are having
- Progress: is doing a good job likely to result in progress of some sort? It may not be a promotion - opportunities to do new tasks or more responsibility are highly motivating to some people. If there is no point doing a good job, why not just do an average one?
- Growth: what opportunities can you create for your people to develop their knowledge and skills?
- Belonging: most people enjoy the sense of being part of a team of which they are proud. Do you create opportunities for the team to experience and celebrate being a team that is doing something worthwhile together?
In the next article, I will talk about the different perceptions that employees and managers for motivating each individual.
In the meantime take a look at this article on the two forces that motivate all human behaviour and download our inspiring leadership posters to keep you focused on successful leadership strategies.
Editor's note: This blog was originally published on March 2014 and has been revamped and updated for comprehensiveness and better readability.