From TJ Magazine: How to harness motivation

Kate Turner reveals the what, how and why of motivation – an essential ingredient of team performance.

When we think about leadership and team development, our ultimate aim is to develop people to enable them to turn up to work as the best version of themselves. In doing so, they will inspire others to do the same and ultimately deliver better results.

But for a manager to create the environment for such success, they will need to be clear on three key elements: namely the ‘what’, the ‘how’ and the ‘why’ of that individual employee.

What, how and why

First, the manager or team leader must be clear on what the desired result is. This should be pretty clear in organisations; after all it’s the result needed to achieve the company goals and is reflected in team targets and individual objectives.

Second, the manager or team leader will need to focus on how they will get to that desired result through the appropriate combination of skills and behaviours of people in their team. By having two-way meaningful conversations on the how, an organisation cannot only play to the strengths of the individual, but also reinforce and foster cultural change.

We need questions which go to the heart of what drives us; questions which elicit feelings. 

Culture is the collective ‘how things are done around here’ and so by aligning the behavioural wants of culture to the behavioural needs of doing a good job, we can see cultures shift.

Finally, the manager or team leader will need to look into why people in their team do what they do. Or, in other words, they must understand their motivations. This is quite possibly the hardest job of them all, not least because motivation is subjective.

But it is also arguably the most important aspect.

Without this energy and drive to commit to the desired outcomes, or the willingness to develop particular behaviours and skills, nothing happens. This ‘why’ is, in fact, the key to delivering sustainable changes in behaviour and performance in teams.

Conversation is key

The key is for the manager to have meaningful and explicit conversations with their team about what truly drives them. And this isn’t simply asking: ‘What motivates you?’ 

Motivation is a feeling.


It operates in that part of our brain which doesn’t have words, so by asking a direct question like this, it’s likely we will simply engage our rational and logical brain. We need questions which go to the heart of what drives us; questions which elicit feelings. 

Likewise, managers shouldn’t presume that they know what may motivate someone simply because of the life stage of that individual. A classic example of this would be wrongly assuming a mum returning to work after maternity leave would simply be motivated by flexibility. It could be quite the opposite.

What questions should be asked?

First, ask a question to open up the discussion such as: ‘What is it about your job that you enjoy and look forward to?’ 

Second, try to reveal the actual motivation, such as: ‘What does this give you?’ This answer is likely to point to motivators such as freedom, connection, making a difference and so on. Finally, ask questions to find out how well this motivator is currently being met and how it could be met more. This will lead to action.

Having this kind of conversation is good practice anyway, but for some reason, too many managers leave working out what drives their team to chance conversations or presume (wrongly) they can work out what motivates someone by simply looking at their behaviour.

When they have conversations with a team member about their motivations, they are sending a very clear message that they care. This is a leading factor in employee engagement.

Having explicit conversations about motivation puts this essential ingredient of employee performance on the table and means that, rather than motivation being seen as some result of happenstance, it can actually be a factor of performance which can be deliberately measured and maximised.

Furthermore, by making the implicit explicit, it encourages employees to take responsibility for what drives them.

By aligning the motivators of a team member to their objectives, they will have the energy to deliver on their work and stay within the organisation. Moreover, it allows them to stay well. This means they are working with the grain of their motivators; delivering on their purpose and will ultimately feel happy.

It is when we don’t deliver on this that people may well leave the business, or perhaps worse still, stay within the organisation, but with a sour taste in their mouth, ultimately impacting other employees with their negativity.

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About the author

Kate Turner is director at Motivational Leadership


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