by Paul Matthews

In a nutshell

1. What is motivation?

Motivation is having the desire and willingness to do something. It is some kind of force, or stimulus or influence that moves a person, or indeed any organism, to act or respond. In fact, when we are motivated – when we really want to do something – we tend not to think of it as being motivated because it just seems natural.

  • We want to do things because they matter to us – they are in line with our values.
  • Our values are context dependent and the context is partly a matter of our individual perception of it.


2. Everyone is always motivated

People can be motivated to do several things at the same time: for example, sit and read the paper, watch the football on TV, mow the lawn or go and do their tax return. Whichever task has the strongest motivation will ‘win’.

  • It’s not about getting people motivated; it’s about influencing them to feel more motivated about the things that you, as their manager, want them to be motivated about.
  • Whenever you seek to motivate someone, you are seeking to override their current motivation with another which is stronger. The only truly effective and long-term way to do this is to appeal to something already within them.
  • Real motivation does not require effort: if effort is needed, you are probably fighting an internal conflict of values or some other misalignment of purpose.


3. People are different

As a manager, you will need to tailor your motivation interventions to suit the individual.

  • You already have a good idea how to motivate yourself and others who are similar to you.
  • In an effective team, you need a range of people who are not all like you, so you need to expand your model of how motivation works so it is more useful and applies to more people.
  • In order to motivate others to do what you want, you need to influence their motivation to do the task you want so it is higher than any other option they have.


4. What makes you want to do something?

A simple answer to this question is that we wish to avoid pain or gain pleasure. We either move away from something we don’t want, or we move towards something we do want.

  • If we perceive the consequences to be a big pain, we will move away strongly.
  • If we see the pleasure consequences as big, we will move towards them strongly.
  • If our guess about the nature of the consequences is wrong, our motivation level will be ‘set’ wrong.
  • If we are so convinced that our guess is right that we ensure the consequences turn out that way, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy and we miss out on what might have happened instead.
  • Ultimately, all the things that you want to do are about being happy.
  • Remember, you might consider the consequences of an activity to be really good, while another person might consider the consequences of the same activity to be really bad.


5. Towards or away

Some people are typically more focused on avoiding pain than gaining pleasure, and some do it the other way around by being motivated more towards pleasure than away from pain.

  • In western cultures, about 40 per cent of the population are motivated towards pleasure, about 40 per cent are motivated to move away from pain; the rest of us are in the middle, with no strong bias.
  • People can have a different towards or away bias in different types of situation. The bias is context dependent.
  • The first step in deciding how to motivate someone is to discover whether they are predominantly towards or predominantly away from, so you can present the activity in a manner that matches their way of looking at the world.
  • If you are delegating to someone who does not have an obvious bias, use a bit of both styles of language.
  • Both towards and away from motivation have their uses, but towards motivation tends to be more durable.


6. Setting your motivational level

Changing the submodalities of a behavioural consequence will influence whether we perceive it to be positive, pleasurable and desirable, or negative, painful and frightening. This alters the degree of attraction and hence it means we can directly change the motivation level setting.

  • Think of an activity that you are considering doing that has a low-to-medium level of motivation attached to it.
  • Notice as you do so that you have a picture in your mind.
  • Bring this picture closer; make it brighter and clearer and in full colour.
  • Now notice what that has done to the level of motivation.


7. Tips to motivate yourself

  • Change the way you perceive the anticipated consequences by changing your emotional and mental state so the world looks like a better and friendlier place.
  • Examine the consequences of the activity more closely by looking at them from different perspectives and, in this way, change them.
  • Change the way you hold the task in your mind by changing the submodalities.
  • Change your state with exercise.
  • Listen to something motivational, such as high energy music.
  • Break tasks into smaller pieces and then get a piece done.
  • Clear out clutter.


8. Procrastination

Procrastination is not purely a motivational problem, though it is often seen as one. In fact there can be many causes, each of which will require a different approach.

  • We tend to procrastinate when we are in the panic zone (the task is too hard) or the drone zone (it’s too boring), in which case we need to change our perceptions about the task so we are in the stretch or mastery zone.
  • If the excuse for procrastinating is that the task will take too long and you don’t have the time, break it down into smaller chunks.
  • If you really hate the task, concentrate on how good you will feel when it’s finished.
  • Self-critical perfectionism needs to be replaced with realistic standards.
  • Don’t wait to feel like doing it, work out what state you need to be in to do the task, and then seek to access that state.


9. Anchoring motivation

Anchoring is the process of attaching a response to a specific stimulus. You can set an anchor where the response to a defined stimulus is a state that feels highly motivated. This is useful when you feel stuck, unable to get going on something. Using the anchor can be enough to kick start you into doing the activity, and then momentum will take over.


10. Values and beliefs

Values can be thought of as what is important to us and, clearly, if something is important to us, we will be motivated to achieve it.

  • People’s values form a hierarchy – that is, some are more important than others.
  • Appealing to people’s values is, if you get it right, an incredibly strong way to influence their motivation to do something.

Beliefs have a major impact on motivation because we use our beliefs about how the world works in order to predict the consequences of an activity. It is these anticipated consequences that then dictate our level of motivation to do the activity.

  • To each of us, our own beliefs are ‘true’ and any contrary belief held by another person is ‘false’.
  • If motivation is low, look to the beliefs in play.


11. The effect of a blame culture

The net effect of a blame culture is that people will be very unwilling to take any initiative at all, as if they make even a small mistake, they will get metaphorically hung at dawn. This clearly lowers motivation.

  • If you find that you are micro-managing people and even end up doing lots of tasks yourself, this could be because of the way you react when something goes wrong.
  • The cure for micro-management is trusting people and having tolerance for the inevitable errors that will occur from time to time.
  • When mistakes happen, seek to learn from them for the future, but without blaming.
  • Ensure the people on your team know what you, through their actions, are seeking to achieve.
  • Empowering people leads to higher levels of motivation.


12. Recognition and reward

Time after time, surveys show that people want things such as reward and recognition from their job, rather than just a pay packet. The same surveys also show that many managers are out of touch with what their people really want from work and the priorities of those wants.

  • Employee recognition is a communication tool that reinforces the most important outcomes people create for your business.
  • Studies have shown that employees value reward schemes which reflect their efforts and their results.
  • The low-value reward, given in the moment, is often more effective and appreciated that the longer-term high-value reward.
  • Criteria for rewardable behaviour must be clear, fair and free from favouritism.


13. Motivational feedback

Motivational feedback is where you give someone approval for what they are doing as a way of reinforcing that behaviour. In effect, this means recognition. We do not seem to be able to fully sustain our internal sense of value without the occasional external reinforcement to bolster up our sense of self worth.

  • If someone needs lots of validation, they will lack motivation if they don’t get it.
  • The externally referenced person relies on feedback or information from others to decide if they have done a good job or not.
  • The internally referenced person uses an internal set of standards to judge their worth and whether they have done a good job or not.
  • Internal people don’t need much recognition; giving them too much positive feedback will actually annoy them.
  • When a manager shares some time with another person – an employee – the message sent is that they are important.
  • Practise catching employees performing great work and let them know you approve.


14. Motivational team meetings

If you run regular meetings for your team, and you should, you would want them to leave those meetings looking forward to getting on with the work to be done.

  • In a group, you are bound to have a mixture of people, so you need to appeal to as many personality types as you can when addressing the group.
  • If you are seeking to appeal to people’s values, you need to choose several likely values, and appeal to each of them.
  • A meeting is a great place to recognise someone with some feedback to let them, and the others present, know what behaviours are valued.
  • Use a meeting as a place to hand out any rewards or awards gained by people since the last team meeting.
  • Keep the team out of the panic zone.
  • Make sure they can see the path ahead.
  • If changes are coming, seek input from the team members to give them a sense of control.
  • Have fun and keep changing things to keep them out of the drone zone.


15. Modelling great motivators

Look around you for great motivators, and then model them. Modelling is figuring out how someone does something, and then learning how to do that same thing yourself. It works on the principle that if someone can do it, anyone can do it.

  • Watch the person in action.
  • If you can, ask them why they do what they do.
  • Act as if you are that person and test the model.


16. The theories

Motivation has been studied by psychologists, managers and researchers for many years and there are many interesting theories to consider.

  • Abraham Maslow posited a hierarchy of human needs based on two groupings: deficiency needs and growth needs. Within the deficiency needs, each lower need must be met before moving to the next higher level.
  • David McClelland’s theory is sometimes referred to as the ‘three need theory’ or as the ‘learned needs theory’: people with a high need for achievement (nAch) seek to excel and thus tend to avoid both low-risk and high-risk situations; those with a high need for affiliation (nAff) need harmonious relationships with other people and also need to feel accepted and well-regarded by others, while people with a need for power (nPow) are driven to be influential, effective and to make an impact. The theory can be combined with the concept of towards and away from.
  • Victor Vroom’s expectancy theory is based on the idea that an individual’s motivation will be dependant upon whether they think their effort is likely to achieve success or not. Motivation is seen as the result of expectancy, multiplied by instrumentality, multiplied by value or valence.
  • Frederick Herzberg held that people are influenced by two factors: dissatisfaction with ‘hygiene’ factors, such as working conditions, and motivation factors, such as recognition and growth. Ideally, employers should provide high levels of motivating factors and satisfactory hygiene levels.
  • Douglas McGregor, influenced by Maslow’s theories, developed his Theory X and Theory Y models, according to which command-and-control management fulfilled lower order (Theory X) needs, while more participative management fulfilled the higher order (Theory Y) needs.