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Motivation: The 6 commandments

Motivation is key to leading a team wellOne of the primary accountabilities of management is motivation. As well as your ability to self motivate and its implications for the team you lead, a sophisticated understanding of motivation and how to motivate others is a core skill.

If you fail to understand how to motivate others and know how to use a set of tools to ensure their motivation, you severely hinder your ability to manage and lead a team. You ultimately end up failing to underutilize the most important resource for the productivity and competitive advantage of your business.

This isn’t about pep talks, doughnut Fridays and securing budgets to throw at pay increases – although there are elements of this involved – it is about understanding humans, their motivational triggers and how to use them to everyone’s benefit.

The 6 commandments of motivation:

      1. Set the base and don’t disrespect it. Most leaders spend a disproportionate amount of time worrying about pay and reward structures within their organisations. the good news is that pay and reward doesn’t really matter. Progress is everything – as we’ll explain below. There are some rules about pay though: 1. Don’t under-pay – feelings of unfairness are the primary emotions triggered when you don’t consistently annual re-benchmark the role, location and seniority. 2. Pay slightly better than market average if you want to remove any pay-related potential demotivation.
      2. Progress is everything. When you’ve stopped worrying about pay and reward structures, you can switch your concern to ensuring you’re constantly finding opportunities for your people to progress. ‘Progress’ is personal to the individual. For some people it’s about constantly progressing their own portfolio of skills; this should be supported as long as they in turn support your strategy and mission. For other people it’s about progressing through the organisation and becoming managers and leaders themselves. Having an unfettered focus on progress also means that your performance management systems are dragged along at the same time. You can both get the best out of your people and ensure you have the best people by following this commandment.
      3. Random reward. Weaning yourself off a pay and reward structure fascination doesn’t mean that you have to forget about rewarding people. When your team is no longer motivated by achieving reward equality and feel they are constantly progressing, then you have the perfectly opportunity to invest thought into surprising them with random rewards for excellent performance or dedication. The key is surprise. If you start to always ‘surprise’ the month after quarter-end when performance has exceeded expectations, then the surprise becomes an embedded reward expectation. If you surprise and tailor the rewards to the individual: the bike shop voucher for the triathlete. The pampering voucher for the person you already know goes on spa breaks. The amount is irrelevant as the thought is the priceless motivator.
      4. Enable autonomy. Daniel Pink in Drive (see video below for overview) describes Motivation 3.0 as having three components: autonomy, mastery and purpose. Autonomy is the commandment in the 6 commandments of motivation that leaders and managers have most difficulty with. This is because we manage with the default assumption that people need direction, rewards and punishment to be motivated. This has been challenged above, but autonomy pushes this further based on a revised assumption that we are innately motivated and keen to progress in any activity that we are engaged in. Here, engagement is the key behavioural evidence of our feeling of ownership and control over job, project and task. The autonomy that creates this engagement is not about giving your team total freedom. It’s about setting goals and giving them the autonomy to make the choices about how to achieve those goals. Try it with discrete projects or specific teams at first. Set the goals, any constraints (minimise these if you can) and monitor progress so that you can remove blockers as opposed to giving more detailed instructions
      5. Help Find Flow. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi wrote Finding Flow and changed perspectives on what makes up a feeling of happiness in an activity. Flow refers to the full mental immersion in the process of the activity, and is so key to motivation. If your team is blocked from their ability to become completely immersed in an activity, their sense of happiness and motivation to complete the task is equally blocked. As a leader, your role is to remove the blockers from their ability to achieve flow. There are actions you can take to drive three components of flow. First is the ability for your team to apply intense and focused concentration on the present moment. You should be clear on your strategies and the broad projects your team need to deliver to achieve those strategies. Don’t add extra tasks or projects which are not direct drivers of the agreed strategies. Don’t be tempted to push for the acceleration of agreed and committed milestones and expect to keep people engaged.  Second is the need for them to start to merge action and awareness. This involves you enabling the development of their specialist skills, whilst ensuring the right complement of skills within the overall team. It’s enabling them to focus on their strengths rather than pushing them to develop their weaknesses. Third is that you need to ensure the activities your team are engaged in are intrinsically rewarding. This isn’t as difficult as it may at first sound. Often by enlarging the job or project scope and giving more control up or down stream, the job becomes more rewarding. If this fails, ask your team. It won’t take them long to work out how they’d make their own work more rewarding – and it won’t involve money or perks.
      6. Set the bigger picture. Too little time is spent on the ‘why’ of work. The biggest ‘why’ of mission above profit  is vitally important to give your team a sense of purpose , but too often the smaller whys of context and reasons are ignored when briefing in new projects or tasks. How the role fits the mission, how the tasks set deliver the strategies, what the project will enable, why this is important and how failure will matter are all aspects often overlooked or rushed through as leaders seek to control and prescribe rather than give autonomy of choice. By focussing on the ‘Why’ at all levels your team develop a sense of place and fit, a sense of importance surrounding contribution and  quality and a sense of urgency to deliver to deadlines. It’s not a generational thing that’s causing the ‘why’ of work to matter: it’s always been the case, but has never mattered to business leaders who could just use carrot and stick to get things done. We’re now entering into a new age where competitive advantage is no longer to do with technology, speed to market, or good customer service. It’s now about getting absolutely the best out of our people in terms of creativity, commitment and excellence. And that involves being able to motivate them.

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About Si Conroy

Family man, founder/CEO, investor & CrossFitting ultra runner. Businesses apply cognitive science to goal setting & goal achievement for leaders. Love life.

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