Motivation – will you read this?

Dilbert - motivationJust the thought of a 50 slide deck on motivation demotivates me – how about you?

Motivation is a very personal thing. What might motivate me to do something could leave you without the slightest inclination to do it.

Two people might have exactly the same goal but may not be motivated to take the same actions to achieve that goal. For example, let’s say the goal is to get fitter. Some people would join a gym and set up a regular exercise regime to achieve the goal. Not me. The need to get fit could not motivate me to go to the gym. It’s an environment I just don’t like. Instead, I arrange to go Nordic walking in the local countryside. It’s a very effective method of walking that gives you an 80% upper body workout as well as cardiovascular and leg muscle exercise. I know plenty of gym goers that I couldn’t motivate to come walking with me.


Is money a strategy to motivate people

If you pay a whole team a bonus if they get the project across the line according to certain criteria would this work? The answer is maybe. It could depend on the size of the bonus. What might seem a lot of money to a junior member of the team could be a lot less attractive to an experienced and more highly paid member of the team.

Money also has a very short term impact. The extra cash of a bonus is soon spent and a pay rise soon becomes the norm after a month or two. I always remember a video of a talk by Fred Herzberg called “Jumping for jelly beans”. In it he describes money not as a motivator, but more of a hygiene factor. You need money to live, to pay the bills. Buit it doesn’t really motivate most people.

Some of Fred’s clients liked this idea of not needing to pay more, missing the point completely. So Fred simply put up his prices to make the point clear. You have to pay the right salary and bonuses to create the right environment. Lack of money can be a de-motivator. In fact in can act as a motivator – to find another, better paid – job!

One entrepreneur I know uses non-cash bonuses to motivate staff. He paid for a whole group of staff to see Beyonce in concert. The buzz from that stayed around the office for months. If he’d paid the equivalent in cash, it would have gone in an afternoon’s shopping or a meal out with the family.


Gestures that motivate

I always recall the story of an American colleague. The health care system in the US is based on insurance and cash. If your insurance doesn’t cover the cost of a procedure and you don’t have the cash, you don’t get the procedure. His son was born with a deformed foot and his standard medical insurance didn’t cover the cost of the operations needed to make things right. He was left facing a large medical bill. Until his boss heard about it. You see, this guy was a valued member of the team so his boss said “Do whatever it takes to fix the problem and put the bill on my desk”. Sorted. Mike was now the most committed and dedicated employee any employer could ask for. And every night after work, he would go home and see his son and be reminded of what motivates him. A one-off bonus could have had the same result – paying for the op – but no where near the same effect.


I took over a project that was facing some challenges. One of the team put in late nights and weekends to help fix the problems in her area of expertise. Sure, she got paid overtime. But what motivated her to continue performing well after the problems were solved was the fact that I recognised the sacrifices she and her family had made. I told her how grateful the company was and told her I also recognised her husband had missed out on seeing much of his wife. So I told her to take him to their favourite restaurant and put the bill on my desk. That recognition of her husband’s sacrifice meant a lot.


It’s an individual thing

Motivation is a very individual thing. That’s why money doesn’t work too well, at least as a long term motivator. Beyonce concerts may not be your thing, but tickets to the rugby or football might be be.

In many rigid corporate structures, the opportunity to give non-cash incentives may be limited. But you should ask the question because you might just start something. One Bank I work with has a recognition cupboard. If someone nominates a colleague for recognition the boss can dip into the cupboard and hand out a little something. It could be a bottle of wine, a box of chocolates, a basket of fruit  – one of any number of things. But they are gestures of thanks and recognition for going that extra mile.



One huge motivator is opportunity. The opportunity to do something you enjoy or something you excel at. The opportunity to develop a new skill or challenge yourself with a new goal. In fact, you can’t motivate someone to do anything, unless you give them the opportunity to do it. But you also have to back up the opportunity with the means to achieve. You have to help them develop the capability if it is not already there. So training, coaching and mentoring can play a huge part. A challenging new job could be demotivating if you don’t prof=vide the training and support to develop the skills need for the role.


What are you going to do to motivate your team

Good project managers are leaders and leaders are motivators. It’s not all rah-rah. It’s about the little things. A simple quiet private thank you can be all it takes sometimes.


I have a philosophy of catching people doing things right and praising them for doing so. Conversely, problems are dealt with privately, 1-2-1 behind closed doors.


What are you going to do to motivate your team today? Leave a message on the blog below with your ideas and examples.

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