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Motivating Your Team


Stuart Cameron


12th December 2019


In today’s constantly changing and competitive environment, it is vitally important to organisations that their employees are motivated to work hard and use their talents and abilities to make the best contribution they can to the work of the organisation. Passive or disengaged employees are likely to do the minimum they feel is acceptable and unlikely to give employers the benefit of any discretionary efforts.

Action Checklist

1. Find out about motivational theory and practice

Psychologists and management thinkers have written a great deal about the factors which motivate human behaviour. Classic theories of motivation include Herzberg’s hygiene theory, McGregor’s Theory X and Theory Y, Ouchi’s Theory Z (which he argued achieves a balance between theories X and Y), and Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. These are all still popular, although they date back some years. They differ in nature but they all see change and motivation as a process. Contemporary thinking in this field includes the MacLeod and Clarke report ‘Engaging for success’, along with the study of values as personal drivers of motivation. Looking at some of these theories should stimulate your thinking and give you insights into the behaviour and attitudes of those you work with.

It should also be helpful to look at examples of good practice at other companies to gain some initial ideas about how to motivate your own people. You might identify examples  via the media, by hearsay, or by reading management articles.

2. Be aware of the importance of your role as a manager

A fair and robust reward and recognition system is fundamental to the development of strong workforce relationships, but research surveys suggest that for many people money is quite low down the list of motivators. Fringe benefits can be effective in attracting new employees, but rarely motivate them to use their potential more effectively. At the same time, a manager’s skill in supporting, guiding and relating to members of his or her team, is repeatedly found to be a central factor in employee engagement. Based on research by the Gallup Organization, Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman suggested that when people leave jobs is it mostly managers they leave. Recently the McLeod report into employee engagement found the role of “engaging managers” was one of the key drivers.

Remember that, as a manager, you are the key motivating or de-motivating factor for people in your team. The team atmosphere you create and relationships you build will be a main route to earning people’s cooperation and effort.

3. Think about what motivates you and others

Which aspects of your working life that have been important to you? What has motivated you or de-motivated you in the past? Are you motivated by intrinsic or extrinsic stimuli? Do you find the same aspects of your current role motivate you in the same way as in your earlier career? Remember, motivators can change over time. Money can be a strong motivator for some. But everyone is different, and for many others, powerful motivators may include being given more autonomy and responsibility in their work, positive support when things go wrong, meaningful work, status or influence, a sense of belonging, the ability to –develop their skills and abilities, or contributing to an organisation whose work they consider valuable or important.

Don’t underestimate the part played in motivation by the working environment itself. Factors such as up-to-date equipment, a clean and pleasant office or workspace and opportunities to work flexibly will engage workers far more than a dirty workplace, substandard facilities and rigid working hours. Bear in mind that people from different cultural backgrounds find motivation in different ways. The organisation’s own culture is also a key factor to be aware  of. Cultural factors influence the expectations that people hold and failing to meet those expectations can be very de-motivating.

4. Find out what people want most from their jobs

People may want more status, more pay, better working conditions, and a choice of fringe benefits. But find out what their main motivators are by asking what they want most from themselves and from the job. You might do this at performance appraisals, by carrying out an employee survey, or through informal discussions.
Answers people give may include:
• more interesting or meaningful work
• to work for a manager or a company they respect
• a sense of achievement and fulfilment
• greater participation in decision making
• greater recognition and appreciation
• a higher degree of challenge or ‘stretch’
• more opportunities for development
• more responsibility and empowerment.
Pay particular attention to what tasks or activities appear to ignite and excite team members. Remember that open and honest two-way communication is essential, especially during times of change.

5. Decide on actions to improve motivation

Having gained some understanding of what motivates your team, you are now in a better position to work with them to improve levels of motivation and performance across the team. Empowerment can be a powerful motivator for many people, but be clear in setting the boundaries, and be sure to give them your full support, as long as they operate within the limits set. A related checklist gives more information on Empowerment.

At an organisational level policies designed to improve motivation may include:
• opportunities for training and development and/or promotion
• flexible working hours
• greater employee involvement and participation
• incentives, such as recognition or award schemes, vouchers or paid time off for voluntary activities
• employee benefits schemes, such as healthcare, childcare assistance, low-interest loans or help with travel or transport
Junior or middle managers will not have authority in these areas but may be able to influence senior managers and pass on feedback about the policies and choices which would be most appreciated by their teams.

6. Demonstrate support

Your organisation’s culture matters. Working in an organisation whose culture isn’t conducive to motivation and engagement will be challenging for those seeking to improve levels of motivation. Nonetheless, look for ways to work within the prevailing culture and keep your team motivated. Always do your best to honour any assurances you give people. If you are unable to do so, be sure to explain what happened and how it affected your actions. The culture of your organisation may be a demanding one where errors are not tolerated. Or it may be a more tolerant one where mistakes are learning opportunities, or indicators of development needs.

Either way, people need to know where they stand and what level of support they can expect. For example: Is there any flexibility in relation to existing rules and procedures? Is it acceptable for employees to use their initiative or adapt the rules when necessary?

7. Express thanks and appreciation

On a daily basis look to find someone doing something well and tell them. Say ‘thank you’ and give credit. Show genuine interest, but don’t go overboard. Avoid appearing to be peering over people’s shoulders. Don’t dictate ideas for improvements. Instead, help jobholders to find their own ways to improve work. You don’t need to be able do everything better than your team. In fact the opposite is likely to be the case. Set a good example, and make it clear what levels of support you will give. The visibility and trust of managers is vital, especially in times of change. Give time to listen to people’s ideas and weigh the viability of each one. Share information about team members’ achievements with senior managers. It is always encouraging to learn that our manager has given a good report of our work.

8. Provide developmental feedback

Feedback can fuel the motivation cycle if given positively and effectively. Overcome any reluctance to engage employees in discussions about their progress and achievements. Offer thoughtful comments on areas for development or improvement, and discuss the next steps or future targets. Performance appraisals and development reviews provide ideal opportunities to develop skills. At the same time, make sure that you give constructive feedback regularly, and that employees are also given opportunities to voice their own views on the current climate and what needs to change.

9. Remove de-motivators

Identify factors that de-motivate staff. These may be psychological (boredom, perceived unfairness, barriers to promotion, lack of recognition, lack of confidence in the company or senior management); or they may be physical (buildings, equipment, noise levels). You will find that some can deal with issues quickly and easily, while others may require negotiation with colleagues and will take time to work through. Demonstrating your desire to find out what is wrong, and do something about it, should in itself help to boast morale. Never keep employees in the dark about what is happening, as this will make them feel insecure and nervous about changes that may be afoot and this will be instantly de-motivating. It is also important to recognise and manage any individuals who are exercising a negative influence over other team members.

10. Manage change with care

Good communications is vital when introducing changes in policies and working practices. Many people have resistance to change imposed on them, so it is important to involve employees in, and contribute to, the process of change. Resistance to change is often due to the fact that people don’t understand the reasons for it, so be sure to give clear explanations. Focus on winning people’s ownership of and commitment to change. Communicate as much as you can and as often as possible about what is going on and why. Seek feedback at various stages with the implementation of new policies, and make adjustments accordingly. Ensure that everyone feels free to air their feelings and opinions honestly, so that any widespread problems or issues are identified without delay.

Download the Manager’s Quick Guide to learn more