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How To Set Up The Conditions for Motivation

You can’t force people to feel motivated, but building a foundation of trust, clarity and safety.


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Mike Pearce

3 years ago | 4 min read

Are the people on your team motivated?

How can you tell? Are they happy, productive, delivering?

Do they enthusiastically jump at the chance to do your bidding?

You can’t force people to feel motivated (unfortunately), but you can setup the conditions in which people feel motivated. That is totally on you.

Trust is key

Key to having a motivated team is trust. I can’t really stress this enough — you need to be working on building trust between you and your team as early as possible and maintain that trust throughout. Follow through on your actions, be present, honest and clear in your intentions. When you trust your team and they trust you, you don’t need to micromanage, you can quit worrying — you can be happy they’ll get on and do the thing.

Trust is something that must be earned, but you don’t start with zero trust. Imagine it like a health bar in the video game. You start with a health of 5 points, it can go up to 20, or down to zero. Trust is the same. You start with trust, it’s up to you to lose it or grow it.

How you grow that trust is the subject of another post, but know that trust and respect go hand-in-hand.

Clarity of Purpose

The other and equally important key to having a motivated team is clarity.

Why the hell am I doing what I’m doing? thinks Tony. I don’t know what this task has to do with this project.

‘Am I supposed to be doing this?’ asked Karen.

‘Not sure.’ Replied Cameron, ‘I’ve just always done it on a Wednesday like the guy before me. I’ll do it as soon as I’m done listening to this podcast on how to make wine like a Roman’.

Your team needs a clarity of purpose. If your team knows what the ultimate goal is of the project (and I’m not talking about the goal “Build a Bridge”, I’m talking about the “Help people connect with friends and family in the other town without a three day round-trip” kind of goal), they’ll be that much more engaged, interested, resourceful, inspired and motivated.

When they can see the thread between the mundane or difficult task they’re doing and the end goal, they’ll want to get it done. They’ll know why they’re doing it. It’s also a sense check — Does this task help me achieve that big ass goal? No? Then I’m going to stop and question why I’m doing it in the first place.

A direct line to the big picture

Want an extra boost? Make sure that whatever the purpose is that your team are working towards has a direct line of sight to the company strategy. When people know that what they’re working on is actually contributing to an overall company goal or strategy, it’s that much easier for them to see the value in their task and ultimately, the purpose of achieving it.

If the current project has them connecting one side of a river to the other, then the company vision and goals had better support “connecting people”. Because if the company vision or goal is “MAKE MORE MONIES” or “Innovate towards a greater future” it’s hard to join the dots between what your team member is currently doing and the reason the company exists.

Safe, happy, fed and watered

Also consider the hygiene factors. Those things that are non-negotiable must-haves for people to feel motivated: being paid enough, feeling safe. Often though, you might not be in a position to influence these (well, if people don’t feel safe, you should definitely do something about that!), but these are a table stakes for getting a job done.

If people don’t feel like they’re being paid adequately, or they don’t feel safe (either physically OR mentally) then these things will consume their thoughts and it’ll be hard for them to get anything done.

It’s definitely up to you, as the leader, to understand how safe your team feel. Do they feel safe enough to ask hard questions? To dissent against the common understanding (for good reason, if they’re just being difficult then have a word)? To disagree? To argue? To ask for help?

Find out. There are plenty of ways to measure the safety of your team and building and maintaining that safety goes hand-in-hand with building and maintaining trust.

It shouldn’t be hard

Motivating your team needn’t be hard. You’ll need a solid foundation of trust, (with a touch of respect), a clarity of purpose and the understanding of safety. All these things together will create the necessary conditions in which motivation, engagement and some amazing work will flourish.

Take a look at your teams, which of those three things are missing or weak, which do you have in abundance that you can further enhance?

Working honestly, openly and respectfully on building motivation by working on the pillars above will push you and your team closer to high performance.

This article was originally published by Mike pearce on medium.

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