The word motivation comes from the Latin movere, meaning to move, via ‘motive’, meaning causing motion, concerned with the initiation of action. Motivation is therefore, in its purest sense, the incentive towards action.
Motivation, then, is what drives us to achieve our goals. But what can you do to increase the motivation of those you lead? There are a few surprisingly simple areas which will make a huge difference.
Provide Interesting and Stimulating Work
Once you know what your staff really like to do, then you can start to provide work that will be interesting and stimulating to them. Work design has a really strong impact on performance. Researchers have identified three basic characteristics of tasks that lead to boredom at work, which in turn leads to lack of motivation. These are:
Quantitative underload, which basically means not having enough to do;
Qualitative underload, when tasks are simple and unchallenging; and
Qualitative overload, when individuals are asked to do tasks which are too complex, and ‘switch off’ because they feel unable to achieve what they have been asked to do.
Fisher, C.D. (1993) 'Boredom at work: a neglected concept', Human Relations, 46(3), 395-417
As leader, it is your job to ensure that work is designed in a way that avoids all three of these pitfalls as much and as often as possible.
Set Challenging but Achievable Goals
Setting goals for and with others is an art. Too challenging, and they will not believe they can achieve it. Not challenging enough, and it certainly won’t be motivating. You won’t get this right first time but, don’t worry, nobody does. The important point is to be flexible.
If you got the goal wrong, adjust it to circumstances, agree the new goal and move on. Consider it an iterative process, and not a one-off.
Provide the Right Rewards
There are hundreds of books devoted to setting up reward systems, and it is not something that we can cover on this page.
But whether dealing with children or colleagues, the important things to remember are that:
Your reward system needs to recognise and reward the behaviour that you want to see.
Rewards should be personally tailored.
Rewards should not be complex.
Quite often, praise is enough, although it does have to be sincere and also genuinely merited. insincerity is easy to detect.
As our page on self-motivation points out, there are two main types of motivation: intrinsic and extrinsic. These can broadly be described as:
Intrinsic = love. In other words, “I do this because I want to”
Extrinsic = money. In other words, “I do this because I have to”.
In both work and life, you will come across people who are motivated by both factors, and most often by a mixture of the two. People’s motivations will also change at different times, and for different tasks. In order to lead effectively, you need to be aware of the balance between intrinsic and extrinsic motivations for each of those you lead and, particularly, what are the things that they love, that they would almost be prepared to do without being paid. You can then use different rewards for different people, perhaps providing some with more challenging work as a reward for achieving goals, and others with additional time off.