An understanding of motivation can help a manager be more successful, both personally and leading a team. Motivation can make the difference between outstanding performance and mediocre results, but motivation is elusive. A successful manager knows that simply insisting that the team ‘be motivated’ just doesn’t work.
Good managers know that people are motivated by different things at different times depending on an individual’s current situation. Good managers also understand that motivation is closely tied to people’s needs, as explained by Abraham Maslow’s ‘Hierarchy of Needs’, where fulfilling physical needs such as food and warmth takes priority over intellectual needs such as achievement.
The different levels of need are (in priority order):
physical needs such as food, warmth, shelter
security and safety needs such as stability, law and order
social needs such as belonging, relationships
self-esteem, through achievement, status, responsibility
self-actualization which is all about growth and fulfilling personal potential
The key points for a manager are that people are motivated to meet lower level needs first, before higher needs and that understanding an individual’s current situation and needs, will give insight into what will motivate that person.
For example, explaining to a team why their efforts are appreciated is a good motivator, unless they’re sat freezing in their coats because the heating has broken and the coffee machine has stopped working. The physical needs must be met first.
Motivation is personal and individual and the best a manager can do is understand what motivates a person and help to provide a motivating environment. This isn’t easy. A motivating environment for one person may not be for another. Individuals have different reasons for being at work, they like to work in different ways, they enjoy different environments and these change over time.
All managers, either managing a team of direct reports, or project managers matrix-managing dispersed teams, or small business owners juggling a number of suppliers, can benefit from taking time to consider the needs and motivation of their team. Linking the required results to an individual’s needs will result in a more motivated team.
Three Steps to Ensure Motivation
Managers can follow these three steps to ensure people are motivated:
Step 1 – Consider Individual Motivation
Managers can find out what motivates each person by asking what individuals enjoy and hate about the job they do, as well as remembering who volunteers for which tasks and always listening carefully to discover an individual’s true interests.
For example, a team member who always produces good reports may enjoy both writing and the sense of achievement that comes with finishing a document.
Step 2 – Match People to Tasks
There is always work to do and it’s the manager’s job to work out what needs to be done and who should be doing what. Good managers know what skills and aptitudes are needed to complete all the different tasks and then match the people to the tasks based on what motivates each person.
For example, if a task is almost complete and needs some final effort to finish, then the team member who enjoys a sense of achievement from finishing a document could be well suited to this task. The motivation comes from finishing the task, not necessarily skill in writing.
Step 3 – Tie Performance to Goals
Finally, the best managers help people to see how their personal performance ties into organizational goals and how completing specific tasks will help them achieve their own goals too.
For example, if a task needs finishing and a presentation on the outcomes must be given, then this could help a team member to achieve a personal goal to present information in ways other than written reports.
Motivated people will happily spend time performing tasks: it’s not hard work, it’s enjoyable and it’s effortless. Good managers know motivated teams perform better and when the team is performing then so is the manager.