Five Tips On Motivating Individuals In The Workplace

Understanding what drives people at an individual level is key, especially when managing a large team. I have a sales and marketing team of more than 75 people, with an end goal for our company to drive revenue growth and profitability. It’s not possible for me to know, day to day, what’s driving each and every one of my team members and what motivational needs they may have in order to be successful. But I have learned some things about leading a team over the last 25 years.

1. Individuals Matter

No two people are motivated in the same way, and I find that it often requires a mix of intrinsic and extrinsic motivators. Identifying the right formula for each person means providing enough opportunities for a person to find a sense of purpose and meaning in their work, gain mastery through learning opportunities and have decision-making abilities within the context of their skill level and role.

Start by ensuring each individual feels connected to your organization in important ways. For example, I have involved my team in small group initiatives such as developing a new value proposition for the company as well as providing opportunities to participate in community give-back activities that align with their interests and passions. Providing access to a peer-to-peer recognition platform where they can receive and give recognition to one another fuels connectedness and builds collaborative relationships.

2. Not All Praise Is Equal

In Payoff: The Hidden Logic That Shapes Our Motivations, Dan Ariely, professor of psychology and behavioral economics, states that “the exchange of trust and goodwill is an important and inherent part of human motivation.” Recognizing work well done via email, a phone call or in person is an effective way for me to stay in touch with various individuals in the organization by letting them know I’m aware of and appreciative of their successes.

(Full disclosure: ITA Group previously worked with Dan Ariely on a thought leadership video series.)

While these small gestures go a long way in building rapport and mutual respect between us, the way it’s given is equally important. Rather than cash bonuses, consider inviting high performers into senior leadership meetings and including them in major decisions. Or, when you recognize someone, make it personal — get to know the person and reward them with something meaningful to them (e.g., a contribution to child’s college fund, a mountain bike repair tool, horseback riding lessons, etc.). Now you’ve made an emotional connection between your employee and the organization that can leave a more long-term impression.

3. Visible Recognition

One-to-one recognition is always vital, but so is public or social recognition. People often look to their networks to share best practices, identify and resolve barriers and learn new things. I find that “social proofing” is a central tenet for bonding a person to your organization, whether it’s recognition received during monthly team meetings or earning an employee-nominated award for living into the company’s values.

4. Nudge A Little

People can only be as good as the feedback and information about their performance that’s available to them. Nudges work best when they are rooted in data, when they employ common sense and when they take away barriers for rational thought. For example, we’ve invested heavily in marketing automation tools — these tools provide data (companies, personas, contact information, level of interest) that our sales team uses to focus in on the ideal client profiles. It’s a subtle nudge that the team appreciates. And using software analytics to attribute revenue to sales and marketing practices provides cogent data for the individuals to nudge them to take specific actions on generated leads and existing business.

Subtle interventions to influence behavior can propel active participation as long as you “nudge” and not push. Nudges work best when they’re deployed for the good of the individual and the company, but not as a means to manipulate or coerce.

For example, including a real-time leaderboard showing their progress toward their own goal and where they stand among their colleagues can spur their innate competitive spirit. Or when an employee proposes to take on an assignment that stretches their ability to grow a new skill set in strategic idea development or effective project management, ask them when and how they plan to do it.

In his book, Nudge, Richard Thaler, Nobel Prize winner in economics, calls this nudge the “mere-measurement effect” which accentuates what an individual says they will do. 

5. Positive Leadership

Over the years, I’ve come to better understand the distinct differences between coaching and motivating people and how to leverage both to maximize their performance in a positive way. Coaching addresses ability and skill, while motivation ignites a person’s intrinsic passion for their work. But you need to do both to boost the highest levels of productivity.

In Intrinsic Motivation at Work, professor Kenneth W. Thomas said it this way: “Coaching on its own addresses only the competence aspect of work, but taken together with handing off, inspiring, and keeping score and cheering, it provides a pretty good overview of the positive leadership that can help you develop and engage workers.”

People are complex. There’s no one-size-fits-all motivator. When you approach motivation at the individual level, consider a blend of internal and external motivators that will capture a person’s heart and mind. In this way, you can uniquely connect with individuals through the creation of memorable experiences, personalized interaction, and giving relevant and timely feedback as groundwork for trust, loyalty and brand advocacy. Ultimately, you may drive results like increases in satisfaction, productivity and retention.

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