Share this post with other Thoughtful Leaders!

Motivate Your People - Main

Need some ideas to motivate your people? You’re not alone – this is a very common leadership challenge.

If we could simply find that one “silver bullet” way to motivate everyone, we’d be on leadership easy street!

Of course, we know that everyone is different, so we can’ t motivate everyone in the same way. Even if people in general may be motivated by similar factors (we are human after all), the specific motivators will differ from person to person.

In this post, I’ll cover a few motivational levers that you might try pulling to get the best out of your team.

Why Being Able to Motivate Your People Matters

When it comes to motivation, some people believe that you have to do something to others, to motivate them.

But this takes the responsibility out of their hands.

If I want to be motivated, is it my manager’s responsibility to motivate me? Or do I have to find ways to motivate myself as well?

I find it useful to think about motivation in two directions. Firstly, leaders need to create an environment where the conditions are right for people to feel motivated.

Then, it’s up to the team member to come to the party and use that environment to find their motivation. Instead of sitting passively, saying “motivate me”.

Otherwise, leaders can fall into the trap of feeling like they need to be running around spending all their energy motivating their people. This is tiring, and takes some of the personal accountability away from the team member.

Motivation matters because most people can learn new skills, but not everyone can apply them with vigour to get great results.

We can think of performance using the equation below:

Blog Feature Images - Motivation equation - motivating your people

We can have all the ability in the world, but if we aren’t motivated, our performance will move closer to zero.

Learn More:  Thoughtful Leader Podcast #71: A Simple Model for Team Motivation.

Don’t Be a Leader, Be a Scientist (Sort-of)

When it comes to motivation, I think it’s useful to think of ourselves as scientists in the workplace.

No, I’m not saying you need to do years of research to be able to lead your team effectively.

What I mean is that we should create a hypothesis about what we think could motivate our team members, and then test it out.

A quick online dictionary search tells us that a hypothesis is:

“A supposition or proposed explanation made on the basis of limited evidence as a starting point for further investigation.”

In other words: we get to know our people, their strengths, weaknesses and personalities and then come up with ideas on what might help them feel more motivated, based on what we know about them.

We don’t need to have the exact answers, but we need to have something to try. If it doesn’t work, we can always try something else. We want to prove or disprove our hypothesis, to see what works, and what doesn’t.

The good news when it comes to motivation is that I find even slight tweaks can cause an improvement. So, you can tinker and adjust the conditions and the work in your team, to see what might work for your people.

Learn More:  Thoughtful Leader Podcast #46: Insecure Bosses and the Scientist Mindset.

Use These 3 Levers to Motivate Your People

Now, let’s look at some of the factors that we can use to potentially motivate our people. They might not all work, but we can try them out and see where you notice any improvements.

1. Provide More Autonomy

This one sounds pretty obvious, but many leaders are hesitant to do this.


Because providing more autonomy or freedom for your team to do their work can feel uncomfortable. They may make mistakes or go off on the wrong track, which can feel quite risky.

However, greater autonomy is one of the motivating factors referenced in a number of motivation theories, including the Job Characteristics model and Dan Pink’s more recent motivation theory in the book, “Drive”.

So, we should try to allow more of it for our people where we can.

Autonomy - letting go of controlling leadershipYou can provide more autonomy by:

  • Having someone make decisions about how they do their work, rather than telling them exactly what to do
  • Letting people decide the order or sequence when they complete the work
  • Providing people more flexibility about when or where they do the work; or
  • Having people decide the priority of their tasks.

Start small if you’re nervous about providing more autonomy. Choose a small aspect of the work that you could let go of, or provide them more control of.

Over time, you’ll hopefully grow more comfortable, which could lead to greater levels of autonomy for your team. And for more on this specific topic, you can read the post by going to the link below.

Learn More:  4 Ways to Provide Autonomy For Your People.

2. Motivate Your People By Providing Varied Work Opportunities

You’d probably get bored if you did the same thing at work every day. So do your team.

Many people like to develop their skills in different areas that they care about, especially if it could lead to further career opportunities in the long run.

Daniel Pink refers to this concept as “Mastery” when it comes to motivation. Could you harness this factor in your team?

Stretch opportunity - struggle with rockTo provide varied work opportunities, you can try:

  • Finding out what you people are interested in, and what they’d like to accomplish in their career
  • Working with your team to identify improvements that can be made in your team, which can be used as side-projects
  • Having your people get involved in initiatives running within your workplace, that are outside of their regular role; or
  • Delegating work from your own role, which can help your people learn to step up into a leadership position in the future.

Reading these points may make you feel uncomfortable. You may be thinking that you don’t have capacity to let your people try anything else, other than work in their current roles.

Is it possible, though, that you could have them spend a portion of their time on improvement opportunities or side-projects, rather than their whole working day?

Google famously does this, allowing time for their people to work on their own personal projects that eventually might become new Google products.

You never know, you might find the additional opportunities give them a burst of motivation that they bring into their regular work, too.

Learn More:  Risk & Reward: How to Provide Development Opportunities For Your Team.

3. Provide Greater Accountability

Sometimes, we may think that our team members want to shy away from accountability. They’d rather just cruise through the workday.

However, delegating greater levels of accountability to team members can be motivating.

take responsibility accountability

Firstly, greater accountability can help people feel as if they are playing a greater part in the success of the team. It can also help people develop new skills or experience in leadership.

In Dan Pink’s motivation theory, one of the factors he says leads to greater motivation is a sense of purpose. Greater levels of accountability can lead to a stronger sense of purpose.

Once again, if this makes you feel a little uncomfortable, I’d consider starting small. Could you perhaps give people greater accountability for a function of your team?

For example, if you have a set of processes and procedures, you could delegate accountability for keeping them up to date and current to an interested team member.

If a certain software application is important for your team, could you delegate accountability for making sure it is kept up to date, identifying improvements or ensuring that everyone knows how to use it?

You might even start smaller, by delegating at a lower level. For example, a team member may attend a management meeting in your place, if you’re unable to make it one day.

There are lots of options you could try, and starting small will help you to feel more comfortable in letting go.

What Can You Adjust to Motivate Your People?

Think about the people and the work in your team.

What could you tweak or adjust, to try to help people feel more motivated in the areas of autonomy, mastery and purpose?

Start small to grow your trust, and come up with a motivation hypothesis that you can test with your people.

You never know what your experiment might reveal about yourself, and your people.

What can you try to improve motivation in your team? Let me and all the thoughtful leaders know in the comments below!

Share this post with other Thoughtful Leaders!