Mastering the Art of Motivation

Motivating other people is actually quite difficult. I’ve known seasoned leaders who were highly skilled in multiple areas of leadership but still struggled when it came to motivating other people, especially when those people were not like them. If you approach motivation in the wrong way, it is actually impossible.

Unfortunately, a lot of management thought out there today still sounds a lot like the old carrot and stick approach. That approach works well when you are trying to get a donkey to pull a cart. But when you try it on human beings, it makes people feel like … you guessed it.

There is a better way to think about motivation. A way that treats people with dignity and takes the reality of human energy and drive seriously. In this fresh approach, we stop trying to motivate and begin working to connect to people’s internal motivation.

There are two key elements to this approach. First, discover their natural energy source. And second, make the connection clear between that energy source and your goal or vision. Before we dive into how you execute on these two elements, let’s remember a bit of motivation science that has stood the test of time.

Motivation Science

In the 1950’s and 60’s, psychologist Frederick Herzberg developed a two-factor explanation of human motivation. The first factor, he called hygiene factors, dealt with surrounding conditions such as compensation, work hours, benefits, and job security. Herzberg claimed that changes to these factors would never motivate people, but they could demotivate. In other words, if conditions are poor, I will be dissatisfied and demotivated. But if conditions improve, I just reach a level of not being dissatisfied.

Some leaders still try to motivate employees by increasing their pay or giving them a better office. But changing conditions may only help to eliminate dissatisfaction. It will not drive me to become more energetic and motivated.

The second factor, called motivators, connects to people’s deeper needs as human beings and includes things like good leadership practices, a strong relationship with management, recognition, opportunities for advancement and personal growth, feedback and support, clear direction, and the ability to succeed. These factors are often motivational for a large percentage of the workforce.

Herzberg's explanation of the two factors of motivation has stood the test of time and been proven as a reliable foundation. But it does not address the individual elements of motivation we want to turn to now.

Discover Their Energy Source

Every human being has an internal source of motivation and energy. It drives them to do the things that are important and valuable to them. Without that internal drive, no one would bother to get out of bed, dress nicely, develop themselves, or try to achieve anything meaningful in their lives. If leaders try to motivate employees without tapping into their natural internal energy source, then the leader will have to supply the energy and motivation from the outside consistently. This is exhausting to do because then the leader is actually serving as the energy for multiple people, which is a fast track to burnout and frustration.

So how do you discover what someone's internal energy sources or drivers are? The simplest way is to ask them, but put some thought into how you ask. Don’t just say, “How can I motivate you to work harder and faster?” Instead, try some genuine questions:

“What are you most passionate about?”
“Where are you most energized?”
“When do you feel that you do your best work?”

These questions can help you uncover what their internal motivators already are. Another way to do this is by using an assessment tool that delves into internal motivation. We use the Driving Forces instrument from TTISI and have been very impressed with the results and the conversations that it generates.

Make the Connection Clear

The second element of your new approach to motivation is to make the connection clear between the employee’s drivers and your vision or goals for them and the company. This is a key responsibility of leadership, and it cannot be delegated back to the employee.

The pitfall is to assume that what is obvious to you is also clear to the employee. Overcome this pitfall by speaking specifically and directly. You can begin by saying, “Here is the role and contribution that I see you making to our vision and goals. This is why that contribution is important, and this is why I think you are uniquely suited to do it.”

Once you have expressed the bright line connection between their value and drivers to the goals you want them to accomplish, then ask them to help you co-create the path. You can ask, “What else do you wish I could see?” Or, “What else do you wish I would notice about you and your work?”

This is an excellent time to think outside of the box. It may be that they value autonomy and control of their own work hours. If you could find a way to give them some of what they want, you may discover a new source of energy for what you are trying to accomplish.

Reinforce Their Motivation

When you have executed on the two elements of discovering the employee's energy source and making the connection clear between that driver and your goals, your role is to reinforce that motivation.

A powerful way to reinforce behavior is through recognition and praise, although some may prefer that to be done in private rather than in public. You can also reinforce their internal motivation by circling back occasionally to check on their energy level and clarity of seeing the connection to their values and their work.

This kind of leadership work takes an investment in learning something about each of your direct reports and even downline employees, but the payoff is that you can stop being the energizer bunny who powers everyone else’s effort.

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2 Responses

  1. Motivation is one way to spur people. Recognition is even easier and cheaper. By telling an employee that they are doing a good job in some area, it makes it easier to say "I know that you can improve ...". I think many managers overlook the benefit of thanking an employee for the work they do; staying late to finish a report, turning work in on time. It may be their job to do these things, but a thank you lets them know that you are aware of what they are doing instead of simply telling them what they have done wrong. What have you told your employees lately?
    • masterminds leadership
      Yes, I agree! And coincidentally, this was the topic of this week's blog post: https://mastermindsleadership.com/communication-blog/recognizing-employees/