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The Principles of Effective Motivation

What is Motivation? And What is it Not?

Motivation is about providing people with the means to achieve their goals, and also about ensuring that the individual's goals and the organisation's goals are aligned to some degree.

It is NOT the manipulation of resources and setting up of situations which gives others little or no choice but to agree to a particular state of affairs.

Nor is it the working relationship between management and team which might appear to mean that the manager can command the obedience of the team member.

It is a separate, specialised aspect of management which enables things to be done - an extension of understanding other people and how and why they do things.

Therefore, the more management understand the nature of people's individual differences, the more effectively will they be able to perform their task of ensuring that their staff achieve the company's goals.

What happens when staff are not motivated?

  • i. Performance standards drop
  • ii. Absenteeism increases or staff leave
  • iii. Morale decreases
  • iv. They might actively sabotage work

Motivating people is not always easy, particularly if you assume that what motivates you will also motivate them. This is not necessarily the case. The following three steps make a good starting-point which can be applied to all team members:

Three Key Steps To Motivation:

  • 1. Find out what your team members want. They must want something - new skills, a promotion, job satisfaction etc; and they must want it strongly enough to be willing to do something about it. A person with no goals cannot be motivated.
  • 2. Establish how this need can be satisfied. There must be ways in which the individuals you are responsible for can get what they want. It is no good wanting something if there is no viable way of attaining it. A vital step in motivating individuals is to show them the path towards achieving what they want.
  • 3. Select a suitable reward. People must know that if their efforts are successful, they will be rewarded. Many individuals have goals and see ways of achieving them, but do not believe that their hard work will be rewarded. People are not all the same in what they want and what they need; therefore, when you consider how to motivate your team members, you must appreciate and recognise their individual differences.

Motivating Individuals

What can you do to motivate each member of your team? Here are some suggestions:

Get to know your staff

The three key steps outlined earlier all operate on the assumption that you make the necessary effort to get to know your team members. If you are new to a job, one of your first tasks should be to really get to know the individual members of your team.

This will help the team to achieve the objectives you set; but remember this same team is possibly made up of individuals of varying gender, age and ethnic origin, experiences and expectations.

To find out about individual members of your team, you must ask the right questions, for example:

  • How do they see their jobs?
  • What aspirations do they have?
  • What do they expect of you?
  • What problems do they have at work?

Do not sit and ponder the answers to these questions. Observe your team members; talk to them continuously and listen to what they have to say.

Help them to achieve success

As a team leader, business coach and manager, you may find yourself criticising an individual's performance, but if you find that this is what you are doing most of the time, there is something badly wrong. It is sometimes easier to criticise than to praise.

Some team leaders tend to pass over the good things that people do, particularly if they have come to expect good work from team members, and then pounce upon any errors. This is a poor tactic because people learn more from their success than from their failures. Praise, support and encouragement go a long way toward achieving success.

Give them a feeling of control over their lives

Some team leaders may tend to exert control over their team members because there is a lack of trust in them to make decisions for themselves. This attitude is counter-productive because it stifles initiative and team development and creates unnecessary dependence upon the team leader.

People should feel that they are making a worthwhile contribution to the overall objectives of the team and the organisation. They should carry out work to match their capabilities and experience, and have an opportunity to evaluate this in terms of the team's goals.

Build their self-esteem

Team members with high self-esteem work more effectively than those with low-self esteem. It seems likely that people who do not feel good about themselves probably do not care a whole lot about work either. It follows that, as a good team leader, you should be trying to develop the self-esteem of your team members. This helps to build confidence, which in turn leads to greater commitment.

It is easy to assume that mature people bring a healthy degree of self-worth to the workplace with them. However, what the team leader says and does still carries a lot of weight. Therefore be liberal with your praise and reinforce your support to them to ensure that they feel their contribution has been worthwhile. Tell them when they have done a good job, or that you enjoyed working with them on a particular project. Being liberal with praise has fewer drawbacks than withholding it. Once you have motivated your staff, you can then move on to an appropriate reward.


Use an appropriate reward

Here you must know something about your team members as individuals. Use this knowledge to assess what they judge to be appropriate rewards.

Reward any effort made in the right direction

If you are trying to motivate people to improve their performance, improvement is unlikely to happen overnight. In most cases you will be looking for gradual change. Any signs for the better should therefore be recognised and rewarded.

Select what you reward

If you are trying to change people's behaviour, you need to reward any sign that it is changing.

Do not delay rewards

Reward team members as soon as possible after the performance. A delayed reward will not have the desired effect.

Ensure your staff know what they have to do to be rewarded

This means that they must have clear goals or objectives at the start, as well as feedback on their performance. This feedback should identify where individuals went right or wrong and how should they progress in the future.

Make the reward fair and realistic

Scale your rewards so that they are a true reflection of the performance being rewarded.

Motivation Theorists

Abraham Maslow

Abraham Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs was first presented in 1942 and published in 1954 in a book called "Motivation and Personality". Based on his calculations of observations of psychologically healthy people, he estimated the percentage of satisfaction of all needs as follows:

  • Physiological: 85% - food, drink, shelter
  • Security and Safety: 70% - job stability, education
  • Affiliation and Social: 50% - home, friendship, belonging
  • Self Esteem: 40% - esteem of others, achievements, worth
  • Self Actualisation: 10% - need to reach full potential

  • People start with the lower order needs and move up the hierarchy one level at a time as their present level needs become satisfied.

    Self Realisation
    Opportunity to develop skills and knowledge. Promotion opportunities. Increasing sphere of influence.
    Retraining put to use. Career structure and planning. Participation in management.
    Self Esteem
    Recognition of skills and maturity. Respect.
    Responsibility and autonomy; feedback of results. Consultation; staff status and conditions. Meaningful work.
    Good relationships with management and/or work colleagues. Pleasant environment. Link between work and home.
    Improved communication; union and group loyalties. Canteens, music etc.. Social activities.
    No fear of the sack or loss of income through sickness, or retirement. Safe working conditions.
    Company growth; union strengths; plenty of jobs elsewhere; sick pay, pensions. Safety precautions; knowledge of risk; training to deal with danger.
    A job (to provide an income to live on).
    Competitive rates of pay.

    Douglas McGregor

    Two views of human nature

    Research has shown that managers differ in their assumptions about the best way to motivate people.

    This activity will allow you to analyse your assumptions about the people in the teams that you lead.

    The pairs of statements that follow are contrasting opinions about people's attitudes to work. Spend a few moments thinking about each pair and then, in each case, circle the number on the scale which most accurately reflects your own opinion. Circle 1 if you agree completely with the statement on the left, 5 if you agree completely with the statement on the right, and so on.

    Douglas McGregor Theory X and Theory Y Human Nature

    Your response to this activity is likely to fall somewhere in the middle of the continuum from 'Theory X' to 'Theory Y'.

  • Theory X managers assume that employees dislike work and will do all that they can to avoid it. They think employees are not willing to accept responsibility and are unambitious. For these reasons, Theory X managers believe that their staff must be tightly controlled and given a high degree of formal direction.

  • Theory Y managers, on the other hand, assume that employees regard being at work as a natural state and that they will exercise self-direction and control over what they do if they are committed to the objectives of the organisation. These managers are likely to take a positive view of others and to encourage responsibility and trust.

  • In short, McGregor argued that some managers regard their staff as lacking motivation unless stirred into action either by reward or punishment. Other managers assume that most staff are basically motivated but look to their manager and their organisation as a whole to give a lead and direction by means of their values and priorities.

    McGregor found that Theory Y managers consistently got better results, with their teams showing more creativity, greater innovation and fewer staff problems. Nevertheless, many organisations still operate systems which seem to be based on Theory X assumptions.

    It may be that taking a Theory X view as a manager leads to exactly those negative behaviours that you want to avoid - that is, if you treat people as lazy, uninterested in their work and unwilling to accept responsibility, they will behave in line with these expectations, thus confirming your view of what they are like. Yet outside the workplace, these same people may display qualities of commitment, initiative and dedication in a very wide range of activities.

    Frederick Herzberg - Two Factor Theory of Motivation

    Frederick Herzberg asked 200 engineers and accountants from eleven industries, to describe things about their jobs they found exceptionally good or exceptionally bad.

    Among exceptionally good things were factors intrinsic to work itself, such as achievement recognition, the nature of work itself and responsibility. Herzberg calls these job satisfiers "motivators", since they appeared to be necessary for substantial improvements in work performance. They correspond to Maslow's self-esteem and self-actualisation needs.

    Among the exceptionally bad things were: administration, supervision, work conditions, salary and relationships with peers. These factors are called "hygienes" because they are preventative in nature - they will not produce motivation, but they can prevent motivation from occurring.

    Both "hygiene" and "motivator" factors must be present for motivation to occur.

    Job enrichment meets higher level needs, because it provides an opportunity for an individual's psychological growth. To enrich jobs, a team leader can introduce new or more difficult tasks, assign individuals specialised tasks which enable them to become experts or, alternatively, grant additional authority to an individual.

    "Motivators" have a much longer term effect on employees attitudes than "hygiene" factors. Job enrichment is a continuous function - see below for further details.

    Frederick Herzberg - Two-Factor Theory of Motivation


    McClelland and his colleagues started research on achievement motivation in 1947. They have since described three motives called "Social Motives" because they come into play in everyday situations, such as the need for achievement, affiliation and power.

    A manager can put McClelland's ideas to work by learning to identify the different motives or needs employees have and then use this knowledge to structure the reward/sanction system, as well as assigning people to tasks/jobs which fit well with their motive profiles.

    Employees with a high achievement need respond to challenging projects with clear-cut goals and they like frequent feedback. Employees with a high need for affiliation like a warm, friendly work atmosphere.

    People with a high need for power want control over people and resources.

    All the behavioural scientists subscribe to a "need satisfaction" approach to motivation. They believe people are motivated to satisfy important personal needs. These needs can be met in the workplace if managers create the right environment and provide challenging jobs.

    D F Skinner

    D F Skinner stressed the importance of discovering the cause and effect connections between environmental conditions and behaviour.

    Behaviour which appears to lead to a positive consequence or a reward tends to be repeated, whilst behaviour which appears to lead to a negative consequence tends not to be repeated. For this reason, team leaders can shape the behaviour of their team members by the way they utilise sanctions or rewards.

    What is rewarding to one person may not be rewarding to another, so managers should look for a reward/sanction system which has maximum reinforcing consequences to the group or individuals they supervise.


    Although each of these motivation theories may appear to be different, they contain a common idea - that motivation is goal-directed behaviour.

    When managers combine an understanding of need satisfaction theories of human motivation with the behaviourist methods of relating rewards and sanctions to desired behaviour, they have a powerful set of motivational tools to help individuals meet personal goals within the organisational context.

    This increases employee commitment and organisational productivity; a win-win situation.

    Top Tips on Motivation

    What to do

    • Conduct a SWOT analysis with your team
    • Offer responsibilities that are in alignment with skills sets and ambitions
    • Invite opinion on certain decisions
    • Present challenges
    • Give recognition/praise on added value
    • Provide regular updates on issues

    What not to do

    • Treat anyone disrespectfully - at any time
    • Over-praise for basic work delivered
    • Speak irreverently about other team members - or endorse others who do this
    • Have predictable team meetings where there is no reference to team dynamics; individual progress; improving the culture/communication