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Make immediate productivity gains by motivating each individual

Posted by Simon Thiessen on 19-Feb-2014 18:02:00

Motivating each individual starts with understanding motivation

One of the most challenging things that managers deal with is motivating each individual in their team. This is the first in a series of articles we will write over the coming weeks to help you take a strategic approach to motivation.

The problem really starts with misunderstandings about what motivation is and how it works

What is motivation?

motivating each individual

Motivation is a drive towards or away from something. It is an intangible force that shapes human behaviour. Sometimes it is compared to emotions - you may have seen the old saying about emotion in motion. It's not something tangible or something that you can carry around in a little bottle and sprinkle on people! It would be great if it was – but its not and the distinction is critical. More on that in a moment.

One of my favourite descriptions of motivations is really simple – it’s something that makes us want to do stuff.  The struggle for managers is what precisely that 'something' is – and that’s where it gets more complicated because the ‘something’ is different when you are working to motivate each individual. 

A shift in perception

Before you can begin to be effective in keeping your people motivated, you need to accept one core truth. One human being cannot motivate another one.

I’ll bet that a lot of you are shaking your head right now and questioning whether that is true. Before you make your mind up, let me explain. Motivation is generated internally (within the individual) as a response to a stimulus (which could be either internal or external). In plain English, people respond in a motivated or demotivated way to things that happen in the environment around them and also to their own internal drives.

What this all means for you as a manager is that you should stop trying to motivate people and start trying to create an environment that people respond to in a motivated way. This may sound like a subtle shift but it can make a profound difference. Control what you can control – the environment – and create the circumstances that are likely to be motivating for each individual.

The different ways people are motivated

Have you ever offered an incentive and noticed the difference in the way your people responded? Some snap into action and give everything they have to achieve the incentive. Others show some interest and you see a lift in their motivation. Others seem totally disinterested – they may even they say they are interested but then not act on it.

It is easy to conclude under these circumstances that some people are just less motivated than others. In reality, the truth is probably that some people:

  • are more motivated towards the things you want them motivated about than others
  • respond to the specific strategies you are using in a motivated way while for others it doesn't 'press the right buttons'

motivating each individual is differentIn one sales team I managed we offered an annual award for sales achiever of the year. The responses of the team members varied wildly: some thought about the award constantly, increasing their sales activity to 'get an edge. Others barely thought about the award - for some of the team, it was irrelevant - they didn't care about awards. For others it was too long term – they were motivated by more immediate monthly incentives. One person confided later that he never believed he could achieve it.

Even those who were motivated, responded to different things: some wanted the public recognition of being the winner, others wanted the personal satisfaction of achievement, one was driven by the financial incentive that went with the award.

To be truly effective in motivating each individual, you need to consider what they are likely to respond to. As a leader this means you have a responsibility to understand each person – what interests them, what excites them, what creates fear, etc. When you understand this, you are well positioned to create environmental influences that each individual responds to in a motivated way.

Six steps for motivating each individual

  1. Think carefully about each person - what do they value, what have they been motivated by in the past, what do they dislike, when are they most effective, when are they least effective, what has been some of their best work?
  2. Use the answers to these questions to make some educated guesses about what will be motivating for each of your people
  3. Think about specific strategies - for example, if you think a specific individual is motivated by recognition, how could you build that into the environment?
  4. Consider talking to each individual about what they find motivating - and to check your assumptions
  5. Try your strategies and watch how they respond. You may not nail tit first time - and there may be a bunch of small answers rather than one big one
  6. These steps really apply to motivating each individual. When you have a broader strategy, such as an incentive offered across the team, try to build a range of motivators into that program. For example, the incentive could be a choice of a cash prize, a family weekend away or Friday afternoons off for a month. This way you are more likely to include something that is motivating for each individual.

In the next article, I will talk about some specific motivation strategies that you could use 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.

 Leadership poster


photo credit (bottles): Viewminder via photopin cc photo credit (champagne): Nanagyei via photopin cc

Topics: Leadership