What Motivates You?

What makes you get out of bed in the morning? Whether it’s all about the money or something less tangible, we’re all motivated by something.

Understanding what motivates people is critical to the success of any business – particularly in today’s ever-changing world of work. I caught up with Andy Davies, Head of Professional Service Enablement at People First, to dig a little deeper into what drives us in the workplace.

Why is motivation important?

This is a subject that has been discussed for millennia. Over the years, workplace motivation has rested on fear of punishment, loss of housing, or other actions that have catastrophic effects. Think of the Pharaohs building pyramids – they probably didn’t think too much about the motivators of the average labourer. Money has also been used by many civilisations, from gold nuggets, cash, stock options or team days out. When I think of financial reward, the Wolf of Wall Street jumps into my mind as an extreme example of hedonistic motivation!

Motivation is critical to our everyday work, and this isn’t new. Without some form of motivation, often pay related, some people may struggle why their ‘why’. Why am I doing this? Why should I work harder? 

How do you get motivated at work?

I look at the overall goals we are aiming for and the team I am working in. I have the opportunity to work with incredibly talented people who I can learn from on a daily basis. It is this learning opportunity that truly motivates me. 

Each time I learn something new, I then have the opportunity to be better at my job and gain personal satisfaction that I have contributed to the team or company goals and delivered great service to my customers.

I know it’s different for everyone. One colleague explained to me some years ago that if he ever wanted something done by a support team, he would approach them and claim that another team had told him that what he was asking for wasn’t possible, and that not even the support team could help him. This often led to a successful outcome and some gloating by the support team! The rivalry between these teams was the motivator that he used to achieve his outcomes. 

How do you motivate other employees?

People’s motivations today are different from those examined by early theorists such as Maslow and Herzberg. Their sample sizes were small and limited and have no reflection on today’s societal norms. Imagine what that would look like now.

I asked some HR colleagues recently what they believe affects motivation in the 21st century. They offered wide-ranging responses, but the most mentioned areas were empowerment, recognition, trust and flexibility. These four elements could form the basis of a new motivation theory, yet we still seem to talk about old theories as if they are still correct. They are not. 

Think about the people who are now working in your company. More and more employees are seeing pay as a secondary motivator. Primary motivators are now the opportunity to work flexibly, learning a new skill, gaining experience on a project, or the ability to identify the projects they wish to work on. This continual learning is a greater motivator than before. Businesses that fail to realise this and embrace the changes needed to support such work will see increasing turnover and employee dissatisfaction. 

Additionally, employees are seeing corporate social responsibility (CSR) as a reason to work hard. If you’re not able to explain your CSR policy to your new hires in a sentence, you may have already lost them.

It sounds like there is no ‘one size fits all’…

Motivating employees is really about the context you’re working in. Don’t let anyone tell you there is a ‘golden rule’ or ‘standard approach’. You need to consider the workplace, the objectives that have been set, the competitive environment, the history of the company or team, and most importantly, the person you are trying to motivate. Could I motivate a city trader to achieve a stretching target with the promise of a £10 gift voucher? Probably not. 

It’s also a challenge of communication. Some years ago, I listened to an amazing story of a branch manager from a global banking corporation in rural Africa. He described how he took the strategic objectives and results for the branch and related them to his staff through the medium of a farm. “Last year, we had 1000 cattle, but now we have grown to 1100 cattle. Last year we produced 13 tonnes of grain, but this year we have produced 14.5 tonnes.” 

When he talked to his staff about customer service and retention of customers, they understood that this related to his story about the cattle. Later on, he spoke with his staff about growing the branch’s income, and this time they understood he was referring to the grain. 

You could describe motivation in the following formula: time + place + communication + reward = motivation. 

How is motivation helpful in organisational growth?

This is where organisations need to review the motivators they have created for their people. Motivators that are simply personal rewards or arrangements will not necessarily help grow the business. Growth needs to be defined first, and then the people need to be engaged to identify how they are personally motivated. 

For an account manager, growth could be defined as increasing customer contact by 10%. But if this comes at the expense of flexible working conditions that motivate the account manager, working arrangements may have to be re-considered. Sometimes there isn’t a simple answer, and there may be many levels of work to ensure that people are motivated and aligned to the growth of the business. 

What’s your favourite motivational book?

Thanks for this question! Daniel Pink’s book Drive is a must-read for everyone. His view of the world and the explanation of undertaking research in India about the effects of monetary motivation is fantastic and undermines many theories.

What should leaders do next?

I encourage business leaders to talk to their people and ask them a simple question. What motivates you at work? When you have the answers, act upon them. The future of work is a personalised experience, and motivators should also be personalised. Managers need to be adept at recognising individual motivators for each person.

Simply offering people more money could mean you retain a demotivated employee who costs more than before.