Human behavior doesn’t just happen. It requires a few ingredients that vary depending on the psychological model or scenario, but one building block must always be present: motivation. Without it, nobody does anything because, well, why would they? So, how do you motivate your team?
Motivation creates desire, urgency, and momentum. Yet it must constantly get replenished and nurtured since feelings of motivation typically only last a few hours or, at best, a few days. People seek more reasons to keep going, build on success, and stretch themselves further.
Think of professional athletes who already have plenty of trophies on their shelves. Why chase another ring when you’ve already reached the heights and have more money than you’ll ever need? So instead of getting complacent, they seek out new drivers.
Maybe it’s a grudge against a player drafted higher, a new record they can set, or winning with a different team. The players that find new motivation—and the coaches that help them make it happen—are the ones who sustain long-term success rather than peak early and settle into complacency.
6 Ways to Motivate Your Team to Do Their Best Work
You and your team probably aren’t vying for a literal trophy or championship ring in a field where success is 100% measurable. Instead, you’ll need some different conditions to tease out the best your team has to offer.
1. Create a foundation for success.
Frederick Herzberg developed his Two-Factor Theory of Motivation to break down what comprises job satisfaction. His research found that some of the elements of a work situation many would think are motivating contribute more to dissatisfaction than anything else.
Herzberg grouped factors into two categories: hygiene factors and motivation factors. Hygiene factors include primarily environmental elements for workers. This includes working conditions, pay, benefits, security, and manager quality. Meanwhile, motivation factors encompass achievement, recognition, responsibility, growth, and exciting work.
As a manager, it’s natural to gravitate toward using some of those motivational factors to get the most out of their staff. However, suppose employees already get paid, have benefits, and have decent working conditions. In that case, it may feel like that side of the equation is taken care of with minimal opportunities for improvement.
Hygiene deficiencies are demotivating factors.
But in reality, even though many of those hygiene boxes might already be checked, it doesn’t necessarily mean each employee is happy with them. And until those are sufficiently squared away, it’s unlikely any other type of motivation will move the needle concerning their performance.
Improving hygiene conditions doesn’t increase motivation much. However, it dramatically impacts job satisfaction. So try and put yourself in your employees’ shoes, even when you’re not privy to their situation beyond the workplace.
Can you give 110% when you resent your salary, benefits, or poor workplace conditions? And imagine how much worse it feels when their peers at other businesses doing similar work have bigger paychecks, more significant bonuses, and workplaces with more amenities.
Any grievance or grudge in the hygiene department is actively demotivating to workers. When those aspects of their role don’t change, and there’s no sign of hope on the horizon, they’re more likely to be searching for a new position or trying to scrape by doing the bare minimum than jump at the opportunity to work even more.
Therefore, managers must focus on these hygiene factors first. And the changes made must be meaningful and lasting. For example, a bump in compensation may help, but only if it’s at least in the 5-7% range, particularly during this time of high inflation. Anything less is demotivating. It’s not keeping up with the cost of living, much less enabling them to have more purchase power.
But don’t try to guess what changes to hygiene factors will increase job satisfaction… ask them! While a big raise or bonus might mean a lot to some, cash may not be as crucial for others. By learning what each worker cares about, you can do your best to improve the things they care about for them… and save those raises for the folks who value them.
2. Uncover what motivates your team members.
Once you’ve met your team’s needs on the hygiene front, you can truly dive into creating and increasing motivation among your employees. But once again, this isn’t always a one-size-fits-all proposition. Instead, to get the most out of each worker, you must know what motivates them.
This requires a combination of observation and inquiry. First, use their past track record to determine in which circumstances you’ve seen them thrive and excel, then seek opportunities to recreate those conditions.
For example, you may have two staff members doing the same job. Still, when each was allowed to lead a project, one may have been energized and ran with that chance, while the other seemed overwhelmed and weighed down by this level of responsibility. Now you know that one flourishes when given leadership opportunities while the other prefers to take a back seat.
This doesn’t mean the one who likes being a leader should always get that role while the other should remain a supporting player. But it does illuminate where one might need some confidence and skill-building training. At the same time, another might benefit more from courses that provide more advanced leadership skills and project management best practices, which might lead to internal mobility.
3. Use context to connect work with meaning.
Every worker has different tasks on their plate. These are the things they must do to meet expectations and fulfill their job duties. But how often are the purpose and ramifications of those tasks spelled out for the worker assigned to complete them?
Far too often, employees feel disconnected from the mission and vision of the organization and don’t have enough information to understand how the task fits into the big picture. Without this context, it seems like busy work, and who’s motivated to go over and above when there’s no apparent reason to do so?
But it can transform their approach when they see a direct line between their output and how it helps the company achieve larger objectives. Sure, the task might be a little tedious, but if it’s playing a part in the company hitting a significant goal, then at least they know why they’re doing it in the first place. And, if those corporate goals connect to their purposes, more motivation can be found.
4. Use a longer leash when possible.
Micromanagement is a huge demotivator for anyone. Instead of instilling confidence, it sows doubt. Rather than fostering creativity and risk-taking, it creates an environment of fear and resentment.
Giving workers additional responsibility and autonomy makes them feel capable and vital. It also demonstrates that their manager trusts them. So, when possible and appropriate, give workers more prominent, self-contained projects and tasks with reduced supervision. With more leeway and independence, they’ll feel a sense of ownership, creating additional motivation to succeed and giving them similar opportunities in the future.
However, this shouldn’t mean saddling employees with more work overall. On the contrary, these opportunities to go alone should be meaningful for them and not just feel like another chore added to the list.
5. Don’t be skimpy with praise.
Nearly everyone is a little insecure, and there’s no better salve for that than receiving praise. Telling people they did a good job, pointing out where they excelled, and thanking them for their effort is 100% free. Yet far too often, this recognition gets doled out sparingly.
Praising team members may not come naturally, but it’s an essential habit for managers to nurture as part of their overall feedback strategy. It’s a cheap and easy way to reassure workers that they’re doing a good job and their hard work means something and is seen.
And while complimenting someone during a one-on-one meeting is nice, it’s even more meaningful when people’s achievements are lauded publicly. So carve out time in staff and project meetings to congratulate people on their accomplishments and extol their virtues in front of others.
This public recognition is a significant motivator for some. In general, it creates a culture of appreciation. But be sure to spread it around relatively evenly. Playing favorites or creating an illusion of bias can just as quickly be demotivating to people who feel left out.
6. Reinforce the commitment with training.
Spending money on employee development is a motivating factor. It confirms the organization’s commitment to investing in job satisfaction and growth. If the company didn’t think the worker had real potential and value, they wouldn’t pay for courses or let them carve time out of their workday for these enrichment opportunities.
But a generic learning path for large swaths of employees can have the opposite effect. Each worker has their particular areas of interest. And managers may also have specific areas they want each worker to improve upon.
To make training a truly motivating factor, courses should be high quality and engaging, and their subject matter should relate to each worker’s goals and desires. As a result, they’ll see that this training is not only an ongoing investment by the company but a step toward achieving their own life and career objectives. That means they’ll get more from the class and be inspired to use those learnings and skills afterward.
In conclusion, to motivate your team to do their best work is an ongoing process that requires consistent effort and attention. By implementing the six strategies outlined above, you can create a workplace culture that inspires your team to perform at their highest level. Remember, a motivated team is a productive and successful team, so prioritize their needs and invest in their success.