How to Motivate and Engage your People

There’s a lot of snake oil available to ‘solve’ the motivation challenge.   Magic elixirs that will instantly give you a well-motivated and engaged team.  Sadly, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably isn’t true.   Motivating a workforce, consistently, over time, requires a deliberate, meaningful process.   The main elements of motivation at work are well known:

  • people want to do well
  • they want the opportunity to learn and develop
  • they want some autonomy over their work life, and
  • they want to find some meaning or value in the work they do.

But what specifically do the people in your team want?

Don’t guess – find out.  However, asking someone ‘what do I need to do to motivate you?’ without any context setting, will probably elicit a flippant answer like ‘pay rise’.

Instead, start a conversation about what is going well for them at the moment, what aspects of their role do people most enjoy, what feels particularly satisfying.  Use these answers to develop a richer understanding for both you and each of your team about what creates days for them when they go home thinking ‘I did some of my best work today’, or ‘that was a day well spent’ etc.

Best Work’ is a useful concept – it’s not about me ‘doing my best’ as in trying harder, it’s about understanding the factors that enable me to do my best work.  This will vary for each of us – some prefer to work alone, other value teams, some like to work with words, others communicate more effectively in person.

The more days we have when we feel we have done some of our best work, the more motivated and engaged we are.   So, when you understand what helps each of your team to do their best work, you will have understood what motivates them – what enables them to do well, gives them the autonomy they need, and feels meaningful to them.

Your job as manager is then to consistently, over time, help put in place the conditions that drive their best work, as much as possible in the context of your organisation.


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