Moving Motivational Ability Up The Agenda

These days most managers say they are familiar with the seminal motivation models, whether that’s Maslow or Herzberg, Expectancy Theory or Intrinsic Motivation.


That being the case why is it common to find a large minority of people in any organisation below even an average level of motivation? Is that just a standard distribution curve no organisation can escape from or is it more a comment on the quality of motivation application from the majority of managers?

When we work on designing a Management Development Centre we always include something to bring out motivational ability (or not). Being a bad motivator is something no self respecting manager would admit to, so it’s interesting to see how many managers don’t have any vocabulary for talking about how they go about doing it. When we ask the question the most common reaction is to drag up some half remembered theory (see top of article) from a training course long ago attended. Practical application seems rare. And it’s very unusual to see motivation on a management meeting agenda apart from when approached financially with something about incentive schemes.

Here’s our quick check list to get  on:

  • Make sure you (really) understand the theory. Recap, relearn to study from scratch.
  • Nail the difference between needs and drives. Its needs that stimulate drives, not the other way round. (Needs being a proxy for wants, hopes and desires as well as real needs).
  • Think about what motivates you. There is a connection here, the more self aware you are, the more sensitive you become in understanding other peoples’ motivation.
  • Don’t be reductive. Motivation is more complicated than just applying a carrot or stick.
  • Personalise. The most effective motivation strategies are designed for individuals not teams or functions.
  • Don’t ask people what motivates them, because either they don’t know, or they’ll make something up, or they will try to intuit the answer you’re looking for. Work out what motivates people by taking the time to get to know them. Remember all behaviour is goal directed at the conscious or unconscious level. People reveal so much through how they behave. Become a great observer of people.
  • Motivation is highly situational, the more context you have the more informed your insights will be.
  • Run a session on motivation at your next meeting, talk about how improvement strategies could be adopted.