in Management

Do you want a motivated person? Then, do not demotivate him


As a manager and mentor there is always a point when someone asks you what do you do to motivate your team. That’s a great question and it is something that you should be asking yourself from time to time.

However, the answer is something that I’ve been changing quite often during my career.

If we do a super simplification we can categorize human motivation as:

  • Primary: Here we could include many of the basic needs described in the Maslow’s hierarchy, such as hunger, thirst, sex, safety, survival…
  • Secondary: This is related to “learned” motivation. You pursue a goal to possess something that you want or that you think you want.

Doing another simplification exercise we can categorize the motivation in the most common two types:

  • Intrinsic: This is the motivation that comes from your inside. You do something because you believe in it, you enjoy what you do or because you want something for yourself.
  • Extrinsic: In this case, you drive your behavior based on the rewards you obtain.

Based on my personal experience, extrinsic motivation is the easiest one to achieve. It has lot of supporters and a full new concept/industry like the gamification that helps you to engage your customers/teams motivating them to complete tasks through a rewards system.

The problem with extrinsic motivation is that it’s not sustainable for the long term, first or later it kills the intrinsic motivation to complete a task in favor of the rewards that can be obtained, which by the way you will have to change often and increase its value in order to keep people’s interest. There is always a point of no return to drive behaviors that have been extrinsically motivated, this is when the individual feels satisfied with the achieved rewards and has lost the intrinsic motivation. Once you reach that point it’s almost impossible to sustain the desired behavior.

Again, based on my personal experience, intrinsic motivation is the hardest one to develop. As every individual has different motivations, you need to work towards finding and growing the intrinsic motivation of each person. It’s costly to manage, but it’s the one you can get the best ROI long term. Normally, as a leader, you will be working to inspire people and align their intrinsic motivations to the behaviors or tasks you need to drive, which is not easy.

Fortunately, not everything is hard to accomplish. I’m pretty sure you will not be surprised when I tell you that most of your employees don’t wake up thinking how to screw up things at work. They come motivated to do a good job and it’s your responsibility to keep it that way.

So, how a manager/leader should keep their teams motivated? Before you start preparing empty inspirational speeches or standard motivational sentences make sure you have covered the basics:

  • Over communicate: Explain clearly why something needs to be accomplished, why it’s important and what are the benefits of success. Keep the team updated on how things are going, so you stimulate the curiosity for what’s going on.
  • Set realistic goals and celebrate small wins: No matter how tough is a task, if you manage to make progress towards your goal you feel more positive and ready to complete a task. The opposite happens when your progress seems more like spinning in a hamster wheel, in that cases it’s common that you want to give up because you don’t think you can accomplish your goal.

There is nothing more satisfying and rewarding than making progress.

  • Let the team be the owners of the goal: Your team has to be the real owner of the goal, so let them be fully accountable. This will also mean that you will need to trust their solutions and start working as a facilitator for them removing any stoppers or blockers they might find when working towards a solution. This doesn’t mean that you cannot counsel them if something can be improved, but clearly you should not change how things are done if they are just simply different than how you will do it.
  • Create balanced workloads: You need to distribute workloads properly among all the members of the team. You can’t have people working at 120% and others at 60%, this creates an unfair situation and unnecessary tension between team mates.
  • Acknowledge mistakes: This doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to punish people. There will always be mistakes and things that go wrong, you will have to decide when to recognize them as a good thing for having tried or thinking out of the box, or when that creates a problem among the rest of the team members and needs to be remediated for the team’s healthy.
  • Be a role model: Assume it, you are not the best, you are not perfect and you do lot of errors, but you can be a role model for the team. Treat everyone with respect, recognize what they do great and what can be improved, don’t cover your mistakes and listen everyone’s point of view to improve your decisions.

This is not a magic recipe to have your team motivated. As I said before every person has different motivations and you will have to pay attention on each individual and the signals they send you, but in most cases having these basics covered you will se that

you don’t have to motivate your team to accomplish goals, but you have to avoid demotivating them by not listening to their signals.