You’ve heard it often enough. 85% of workers are disengaged.
A good salary, bonuses, and other benefits don’t seem to make much difference.
So what will?
Motivation separates outstanding teams from mediocre ones.
But how? How to motivate your team?
If benefits and bonuses don’t cut it, what will?
I’ll get to that.
First, let’s (re-)examine a few fundamentals about motivation.
An unmotivated team will do what’s required but little more.
That’s because they’re not inspired to.
And as you’ve experienced, incentives don’t help much, if at all. (I’ll explain more about that later on.)
Motivation is the secret sauce that inspires someone to keep going, in spite of challenges and obstacles, along the way.
Motivation comes from feeling excited about what you’re doing.
Feeling excited is energizing.
You can’t help but engage with what you’re excited about.
And you find yourself wanting to get a result or find a solution. Simply because it’s satisfying.
Motivation is the spark that ignites your imagination and creativity.
It’s human nature.
Feel motivated, and you can move mountains.
So, if you want your team to give you their best effort, they need to be motivated.
Yes, the plain and simple, unsettling truth is that you can’t force people to feel motivated.
The motivation that matters comes from within. You can only help them find it.
Another hard truth.
You can try to bribemotivate your team with incentives like rewards and bonuses.
But the thing is, while incentives have an effect, that may not be what you want.
A number of studies have shown that they don’t work and can even be counterproductive.
And going the other way, penalizing individuals or the entire team for not achieving a goal, obviously isn’t motivating at all. It’s a toxic practice that instills anxiety, even fear, and people can’t give you their best when fear is running through their brains.
So, what are you to do?
You inspire them.
In his book, Start with Why, Simon Sinek mentions Ernest Shackleton, the leader of multiple expeditions in Antarctica, as a prime example of an inspirational leader.
Shackleton didn’t inspire his crew by promising them a competitive salary and three weeks of paid vacation. Instead, he poked at his crew’s curiosity. He made them want to explore the world and see it for themselves.
“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work, and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.”
― Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
How did this affect their performance?
Well, despite their ship, Endurance, sinking — crushed by sea ice — the entire crew, Shackleton included, survived the expedition.
You might think it’s easier to inspire a person to travel the world than to work at a desk, and you wouldn’t be entirely wrong.
But, the good news is, that inspiring someone comes from giving them a sense of autonomy, mastery, and purpose. These are the three main motivators according to Daniel Pink in his book “Drive”, subtitled “The surprising truth about what motivates us.”
Find out what inspires the people in your team and support them to get it.
And then, they’ll motivate themselves.
Even when your team is motivated, there’s no guarantee that they’ll stay at that same level of motivation for the rest of the quarter, month, week, or even the next few days.
Don’t assume that has to do with your leadership.
Motivation waxes and wanes, quite naturally.
You’ve experienced this yourself. When you’re dog-tired, no amount of inspiration can motivate you to mow the lawn.
After working hard or playing hard, your body and mind need time to recuperate.
Giving your team a mental health break may seem counterintuitive when you’re on a tight deadline, but allowing your team to “slack off” even for just a day can be exactly what they need to then press on with refreshed and reenergized minds.
It also helps prevent burnout and losing motivation completely.
When the going gets tough, motivation often suffers and benefits from reminders.
This is why your team members might have photos of their families at their desks or inspirational quotes as their computer background.
There are many ways to motivate inspire your team.
I’ll get to them.
First, let me tell you a surprising secret.
The single most effective way to inspire your team to motivate themselves is to stop demotivating them.
Of course, that’s not what you intend to do.
But there are probably more ways to demotivate someone than to inspire them. And these have an uncanny knack for creeping in.
Here are a few for you to ponder.
People want to be seen and recognized for their contributions.
Few things demotivate faster than giving your all to a project and having it go unnoticed.
Just imagine this.
You worked extra hours on an important presentation. But nobody says anything about how good it looked and how well you delivered it.
You might wonder whether all that extra effort was a waste of time.
Not acknowledging someone for their work sends the message that it isn’t noticed. Not greeting someone can tell them they aren’t noticed.
Be attentive. It takes little effort and leaves a lasting impression.
What could be worse than not being acknowledged for your hard work?
Having it stolen.
Nobody likes it when someone else takes credit for their hard work.
Even when it’s “by omission”.
Receiving praise without crediting the people who made it possible sends the message that they won’t benefit from their own efforts.
Be generous. Your team deserves it (even when they don’t), and your higher-ups will assume you had a significant role in it, anyway.
Giving feedback is an important part of any work environment, but it’s easy to get wrong.
Imagine working hard on a piece of marketing collateral only to be told that it’s not up to par.
That doesn’t say how to improve.
Contrast “I hate that color,” with “I’d prefer a warmer color.”
The first is unhelpful. The second gives a direction for improvement.
Be specific, be helpful. And offer support — to get your team what they need to do better.
Micromanaging sends all sorts of demotivating messages.
• that they are incapable of doing a good job without being told exactly what to do
• that they won’t work well without continuous supervision
• that they can’t be trusted with autonomy
Manage the work, lead your people.
Toxic behavior is a motivation killer.
Of course, you don’t engage in it but read the link anyway.
Because you might be surprised at the plethora of behaviors that have a detrimental effect.
And because not calling out someone who behaves in a toxic manner amounts to tolerating it and sends the message that it’s acceptable.
Be alert. Draw the line. It’ll go a long way to creating the psychological safety everyone needs to contribute freely.
Now you know what not to do, let’s see what you can do to inspire your team to motivate themselves.
If you can only find your company’s mission and vision in a PDF of your employee handbook, you’re letting your team remember their purpose. Your mission and vision are what give your company, and by extension, your team members, a reason to give their best.
Whether you’re trying to make waves as a startup or make large-scale changes as a multinational, your company’s purpose, its “why,” has to be kept front and center. Keeping your mission visible to your team reminds them that they’re not just working for a paycheck but to make a difference in the world.
Psychological safety plays a vital role in the workplace in keeping your teams happy and healthy. By cultivating a culture where your teams can ask questions, raise suggestions, and take risks, you’re encouraging them to be more creative and to think outside the box.
Teams that feel encouraged to share their ideas tend to have more good ones.
As the leader, you want to set an example for your teams to follow.
Don’t just talk about how you want your team to function, show them.
Walk your talk.
And show you’re human, too.
A leader who’s not afraid to crack a joke, need a break, or lighten the mood is a much more motivating sight than a robot who seemingly never leaves the office.
It’s hard to be motivated to chase a goal when you don’t know what the goal is.
As the leader, you want to communicate clearly about your expectations.
As with feedback, be specific and avoid language that’s open to interpretation.
Using a framework like Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) can work wonders as it marries lofty, often vague objectives with concrete, very specific key results and targets for each.
The way you give feedback can be just as impactful as the feedback itself.
When you give positive feedback, you want to try to give it in a way that the receiver would appreciate. More outgoing team members may appreciate being given feedback publicly in front of other team members, whereas more reserved team members may appreciate being praised in private.
On the other hand, feedback intended to get someone to improve is better served in private. As mentioned before, you want to ensure that your feedback is specific and gives clear guidance on what you want someone to change.
In all cases, ensure that your feedback is about what someone does, not about who they are.
You also want to make feedback a two-way street.
Be open to receiving feedback about your actions and decisions.
Don’t get defensive. Respond with curiosity. Ask what they need you to do instead.
As mentioned earlier, manage the work, lead the people.
Guide your team on the what and why of what needs to be accomplished and trust them to get on with it.
You can’t inspire someone who doesn’t trust you, and before they do that, you have to trust them.
Motivation is the secret sauce that turns a decent team into a great one.
But you don’t get it with incentives.
The motivation you want your people to feel comes from within.
You can’t force it upon them.
But there is a lot you can do, or stop doing, to inspire them to motivate themselves.
So start by picking one or two things I mentioned and put them into action.
Persist with them even when you don’t immediately see effects.
Because actions speak louder than words, and if you consistently put them into action, your team is bound to be affected in a positive way.
And then you all get to reap the rewards.