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How to Shift Your Team Members’ Motivation

I have always been rather curious when someone, usually a manager, says that a member of their team is not motivated. I’m curious because I don’t believe that this is possible, and the manager is deluding themselves with what might seem like a plausible excuse for the poor performance of someone they are responsible for.

The reason I say that it is not possible, is that I believe that everyone is motivated all of the time. People do what they do because they are motivated to do it, even if what they are doing is reading the newspaper, or checking their Facebook page, or staring into space and daydreaming.

What a manager really means when they talk about someone on the team not being motivated, is that the person is not motivated to do what the manager wants them to do; or at least not sufficiently motivated to overcome their motivation to do something completely different to what the manager wants.

The problem with thinking that someone is not motivated is that it tends to suppose that the person is missing something that has to be supplied to them in order for them to perform. This viewpoint that something is missing often leads to rather ham-fisted approaches to motivation that fail because they are based on a false underlying premise.

Consider how you might do things differently if you presuppose that someone is already motivated, and it is a matter of switching their motivational allegiance.

People can be motivated at the same time to do several different things: 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’.

People do what they want to do because, on balance, their desire to do it wins across a range of competing motivational influences.

The real problem, from the manager’s perspective, is the need to influence what people want to do and therefore to discover how to achieve that in a work context.

If you would like to influence or motivate people to do something different, you need to do something that will raise within them a stronger motivation to do the new thing than the old thing. The stronger their motivation to do their current behaviour, the less likely you are going to be able to turn them from that current behaviour onto something else.

Whenever you seek to influence someone, you are seeking to override their current motivation with another which is stronger and which dovetails with your own aims and outcomes.

“Motivation is the art of getting people to do what you want them to do because they want to do it.” Dwight D. Eisenhower

Although the triggers that motivate us are different from person to person, it is worth considering your own motivational patterns, and notice what it takes for you to change your mind about what you’re going to do. What triggers create a sufficient motivational shift so that in future you want to do something different?

How can you use this observation when motivating people on your team?

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Paul Matthews, MD People Alchemy Ltd

Paul Matthews is recognised as an expert in workplace learning, especially informal learning, as well as management development and employee performance support. He is the author of “Informal Learning at Work: How to Boost Performance in Tough Times”.

T: 01908 325 167

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