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Modern motivation for the workplace

Discover the best form of motivation for your team | LMA

At this time each year, elite coaches, players and officials in many sporting codes are in the spotlight and under pressure to perform at their peak – to claim that elusive premiership.

In past decades, some memorably explosive tirades from coaches often saw individuals and whole teams reverse the flow of the game and soar to new heights – in many cases to claim the title –to appease (or even vindicate) the coach.

As time has passed and the professionalism, complexity and sophistication associated with sport has evolved to higher levels, so too have the methods used to get the best performance from the various contributors.

Far from witnessing a vitriolic, hot-headed attack on the playing group, imploring them to perform as a unit, in today’s sporting environment we are far more likely to see a number of coaches and assistants working with smaller groups and individuals to discuss and plan the approaches to be used to improve performance. These discussions are based on sound data, accurate measurement and monitoring and high quality feedback.

The conversations are specifically tailored to the individual or the small group and are based on a strong relationship, rapport and understanding of each person, developed over months or even years of close interaction and collaboration.

As in the sporting world, the organisational world has evolved. Leaders and managers in today’s successful and growing organisations are much more strategic and focused on the individual than ever before. In essence the ‘old-school’ adages of “one size fits all” and “treat ‘em mean to keep ‘em keen” no longer allow organisations to get the best from an employee or team member.

However leaders and managers in many organisation still routinely forget that true motivation to perform comes from within the individual – it’s not something we DO TO our people, it’s something they DO FOR THEMSELVES. It comes through their identification of the needs they seek to fulfil through their work and their commitment to perform to their potential – to work to satisfy those needs. As leaders, managers, coaches, all we can really do then is support their initiative and impetus to help them on their journey.

This support be provided in a number of forms and based on the latest Leadership Employment and Direction (L.E.A.D.) Survey results, we need to be mindful of what makes people want to perform, to apply their discretionary effort to benefit themselves, their teams, departments and organisations.

The latest Top 5 Positive Influences on Employee Performance reveal a wide range of potential motivations to perform and highlight the gulf that often exists between what employees know influences their performance and what managers and leaders believe influences that performance:

Q: Looking at the list below, please nominate which five factors you feel have the most positive influence on your (your staff’s) performance at work today.

Influences on workplace performance NOW (Ranking)



Managers2014 Leaders2014
Reasonable salary/pay 1 1 4
Being entrusted with responsibility/independence 2 5 5
Interesting/challenging work =3 8 3
Good relationship with other staff =3 12 =8
Flexible work arrangements/hours/family-friendly =3 =3 7
Job security 6 =3 =10
Receiving good feedback and communication 7 2 1
Having clear objectives/goals set =8 6 2

Given the variability in the rankings of influences on performance, it is clear that few managers and leaders understand the importance of the team in motivating the individual to perform. Working with a team we like to work with can override or allow us to overlook deficiencies in other influences, for example, the inability to provide market-competitive salaries in a tight economic environment.

Likewise, leaders seem to believe good feedback and communication can influence employee performance ahead of all other influences (ranking it #1 influence) including reasonable salary/pay which they rank at #4, flexibility (#7) and relationships with other staff (equal 8th).

Leaders and managers who don’t invest time and energy in understanding their people and their motivations, run a very real risk that the needs of their people won’t be met or supported by the organisation and those valuable team members will become disengaged, disillusioned and unproductive. In time they will be the first to jump ship when other, more gratifying and satisfying opportunities arise.

So what should modern or ‘new-school’ leaders and managers be doing to draw out the motivations that lie within their people?

  1. Connect with your people – take the time to discover or rediscover them as people rather than simply employees. Take an interest in their lives and them.
  2. Understand their motivations – discuss with them their goals and aspirations, where they’d like to develop and progress, how they’d like their roles and careers to develop.
  3. Develop individual motivation plans/profiles – create a profile of each employee/team member that can be added to and enhanced to improve your understanding of them and their needs.
  4. Develop team goals and objectives with the team and cascade them to each individual – by developing the goals and objectives with the team and helping them to translate those goals to their own performance you make a strong connection with their motivations.
  5. Develop agreed meaningful measures of performance – work with the individuals and the team as a whole to identify the most appropriate and meaningful measures of performance. Develop Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) as needed to guide the individuals and the team towards the desired goals/objectives.
  6. Provide feedback regularly – celebrate success, identify opportunities for improvement and give people the opportunity to draw on their self-motivation to perform to their potential.
  7. Be flexible and prepared to adjust to retain and develop people – the modern organisation needs to exhibit high levels of flexibility in order to derive the best from its people. Flexibility in how the work is performed, how the leaders and managers support the individual to fulfil needs and flexibility in recognising and rewarding performance.

Remember, if you’re not spending significant time in your people’s worlds seeking to understand and support them and tap into their motivations, they are very likely not to want to spend a great deal of time in yours. And all the ranting and raving in the world will not help you to generate the performance you seek from them.