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Want to know what Motivates your employees?

Stop Guessing – Start Connecting. 

Whenever I teach a leadership workshop or seminar, I’ll always ask participants, ‘What is one thing that you’d most like to learn from this workshop?’. No matter what city, country, or company I’m in, the answer is pretty much the same:

“How do I motivate my employees to do their best?”. Then they’ll usually add, “…consistently?”.

In addition to leading and managing employees, most leaders today have their own deliverables, project prime-ships, meetings, customer escalations, endless emails, and of course, virtual teams.

It can be challenging to know how to motivate employees to perform highly and consistently, even when you’re not there.   Here’s what not to do:   

Stop Assuming: One mistake is to assume that others are motivated by the same things you are. Perhaps you like the pressure of growing sales, the challenge of achieving a President’s Award, or the prestige of becoming the “the best fill in the blank”. While others may recognize these as important, it may not be what motivates them. For some it may be contributing to a greater purpose, working on a team, or mastering a skill. (See DRIVE by Daniel Pink). For others it’s about making enough money to provide food and shelter for their children.  

Stop guessing: Now days most leaders realize that not everyone is motivated solely by money. When asking employees to perform a task or adapt to a change we might offer up several benefits such as: ‘you’ll increase your ‘brand’, ‘you’ll advance your career’, or ‘you’ll get a promotion’. These are noble attempts to appeal to an employee’s values – but the trouble is, we’re still just guessing.

Here is one practical, powerful way to find out what motivates someone:    

Start Connecting1: Take time to get to know your employee(s). Whether in a meeting, over a coffee, or on your way to the next sales call. It only takes a few minutes to ask someone about themselves. Here are examples of questions to get the conversation started:

  • What’s one thing you like most about the role you’re in now?
  • What seems most challenging about your role?
  • Given those challenges, what keeps you coming back every day?
  • If you could be doing more of something, what would that be?
  • What’s one thing you’re most passionate about in your personal life?
  • If you were to look out 5 years, what would put a smile on your face?
  • In order to achieve / experience / be … what would you need to learn?
  • How can I help?

Notice that these questions are open questions. Open questions tend to get people talking a bit more, and because there are no right answers, they tend to be more disarming than closed questions.  

Your job is to listen for what seems most motivating to them. Listen, learn, and stay curious.

When someone says, ‘I just want to get ahead’. Instead of saying, “Ya, I know what you mean,” be curious. Try double clicking2.

Here are some examples:

“When you say ‘Advance’ your career, what do you mean by advance?”, or “When you say ‘work-life balance,’ what does that look like for you?”, or “Sounds like you really want to ‘make an impact’, what’s important to you about that?”

Now you have a sense of their goals and what motivates them. You can frame suggestions or requests in terms of what’s important to them.  

Why Connect?

As Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman revealed in their book First Break All The Rules, the best leaders in the world treat employees uniquely, not the same. When you connect, the employee is more likely to feel:

“My supervisor or someone at work, seems to care about me as a person”.

“I have the opportunity to do what I do best, every day”.

“In the past year, I have had opportunities at work to learn and grow”.

While it does feel good to have someone deeply listen, it’s not just about being nice, or being liked. Remember, you’re listening for what is most motivating to them. As Adrian Gostick and Chester Elton suggest in their book What Motivates Me,  you can look for opportunities to sculpt3 their job in a way that is even more motivating to the employee. They’re more likely to be motivated to perform, solve problems and innovate new ideas, even when you’re not there.

If you’re looking for leadership techniques that are easy to use and get results, give us a call at Lidera, it’s what we do

[1] Andy Kimball – QB International

[2] Andy Kimball. QB International

[3] Adrian Gostick and Chester Elton, The Culture Works.


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