How to motivate people at work

Two weeks ago in Seattle, I gave a talk to an audience of mid-level managers of Fortune 1500 companies and offered all the attendees a free, one hour coaching session to discuss any business related issue. Now, two weeks later, after more than a dozen of those coaching sessions, I realize that what’s on the minds of so many people  who have management responsibilities in corporate America is: how to motivate people to be the best they can be and do the best job they can do? I’m sure most of you can relate to this question.

Here’s my standard answer: you’re asking the wrong question! People are already motivated. They get up, go to work, do their job, do their best to take care of their families, do things they find are fun, get involved in their kid’s activities, eat food, go to sleep at the end of the day, etc etc etc. I hope you get the point. They wouldn’t do any of those things if they weren’t committed to something, many things. So it’s a huge mistake to think people aren’t motivated because they surely are.

So if you’re a leader or manager, the question you should be asking is: how do I inspire people to bring their motivation to their work here? That is a great question. And the simple answer is: give them something to be motivated about!!!

People bring to their work their natural motivation when they work for a company where they see a satisfying future for themselves, where they are treated with respect, when they feel cared about, when they feel like their work makes a difference, where they are given an opportunity to grow and develop, personally and professionally, and where they can use their talents and abilities effectively so they can go home at the end of the day feeling good about themselves and the contribution they made during the day. There’s more, but that’s a good place to start.

When we have an opportunity to work with a company, we always work with the leadership to create an exciting vision for the future, an inspiring purpose, and an empowering culture that will allow the purpose and future to become a reality. We have conducted hundreds of “launching events” where we have introduced that purpose, vision and culture to everyone in the company and solicited their input. We have celebrated in advance the fulfillment of the vision and asked everyone to work with management and each other to that end.

These “events” have been elaborate, included a lunch or dinner, a cake and champagne for the celebration, and are designed to let people know that the leadership is serious about all of this. What has always occurred is that people leave the event excited about the future and their part in its fulfillment. Assuming the leadership is serious about creating a culture as described above and following through, there has never been a time where a leader has asked me how to motivate people. Give people something to be motivated about and get out of the way. The results will astound you.

What I came to realize in my coaching sessions is either how difficult it is to do anything even remotely similar to what I have suggested or how uninterested management is to even try. It so seems that the attitude of far too many companies is that a nice place to work, with good pay and benefits, should be sufficient to motivate people. And if it isn’t, they should go someplace else. Unfortunately, good pay and benefits is always at the bottom of the list of what people want. See my comments above. If you can’t give people what they really want, don’t complain if they save their motivation for after work activities.

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