Why your team motivation strategies aren’t working

Have you ever wondered why none of the incentives you put on for your team seem to motivate them?

Maybe you’re frustrated because they always have to be told what to do or they don’t show any initiative. Even when you dangle carrots in front of them, such as cash bonuses, nothing seems to change their long-term behaviour.

If that sounds familiar, it might be time for you to look at the situation differently and reflect on why your strategies aren’t working. The biggest problem is assuming that the problem lies with your team members and not with the strategies you use as their leader.

Let’s look at how motivation works.

There are 3 main types of motivation. Behavioural, personal, and social.

1. Behavioural motivation

This is the driving force behind pursuing the satisfaction of our basic needs; such as the need for food, water, and sleep. It is instinctive and often subconscious. The longer these needs are not met, the greater the urge to satisfy them.

2. Personal motivation

Each of us has individual goals we’d like to achieve, such as career or sporting accomplishments. While others around us might be motivated in similar ways, the aspirations must come from within. The more effort we put into achieving these goals, the greater our satisfaction when we reach them.

3. Social motivation

This form of motivation hinges around our interactions with others and, therefore, it is the most likely to influence workplace performance.

Key Social Motivators

Kristen Hansen, Founder of EnHansen Performance, works with major corporations like Telstra, Google, and NRMA in the areas of leadership, sales, and performance. During her presentation, The Neuroscience of Leadership and Performance, Kristen outlined the key social motivators that will throw us into either a threated or a positive state at work. These are autonomy, certainty, connection, equality, status, and safety – or ACCESS.

1. Autonomy

When people are given choice, they are more likely to feel ownership over their actions. For example, allowing options around start and finish times or working alone or in a team helps to foster a sense of control and allows people to select the options that best suit their productivity.

2. Certainty

Some people like to plan their days well in advance, while others are happy to ‘go with the flow’. You may like to think of yourself as an ‘easy-going’ manager who doesn’t insist on too much structure, yet one of your team members may thrive on structure and become anxious without it. This can also occur in reverse. Either way, a stressed team member is unlikely to function at their full potential.

3. Connection

Are you the sort of leader that likes be friendly and open with everyone? It’s important to be aware that some people may prefer to keep their distance a little at work. On the other hand, maybe you don’t show enough interest in your team as individuals, which could prompt an attitude like, “Well, if my boss doesn’t really care about me, why should I care about the work I do for them?”

4. Equality

When children divide a bag of lollies, there are always some who like to count out an equal amount for each person and others who aren’t really fussed, as long as they get a share. These personality traits can appear in the workplace, too. Some people care deeply about everyone having equal opportunities in all aspects of the job. If they perceive you as acting unfairly, it may influence how well they work with you.

5. Status

There are those that take their position in a work hierarchy very seriously. They are they ones who will strive for a promotion or position of responsibility. In an era of shared accountability where hierarchies sometimes don’t exist, it can be difficult for someone who values status to cope or fit in.

Status also refers to the need for feedback. Some people thrive on compliments or recognition about themselves or their work while others might be more intrinsically motivated, so, for them, feedback might not be as important.

6. Safety

Although safety is a similar motivator in some ways to connection, it has more to do with our level of trust in other people – whether or not we trust them enough to open up to them. Some people may have carefully protected guards up around themselves at work, while others may have no guards up at all. As leaders, this is something we need to be respectful of. We also need to earn people’s trust, not demand it.

Analysing and ranking social motivators

Before analysing how these social motivators fit within your team, try working out how they influence you. Rank them all from 1 to 6 in order of importance to you, then consider how your responses may affect the ways you usually try to motivate your team. Then think about the people in your team and how they might rank these factors. If possible, ask them.

If you continually try to influence people with your own social motivators, you will probably only have success with a handful of them while the others will continue to appear ‘unmotivated’ to you. However, if you consider all 6 factors and which ones your team members rank highly, you’ll be far more likely to use motivating strategies that hit the right buttons and keep everyone both happy and productive.

‘The Art of Focus’

This episode forms part of our 2018 series narrative, ‘The Art of Focus’ which is based on the premise that, in an information-dense society, our attention resources have become depleted. The series’ speakers will help us identify and explore the areas in our lives where we may need to regain focus, increase our self-awareness and improve how we interact with those around us.

If you’d like to hear more of Kirsten Hansen’s recorded conversation, The Neuroscience of Leadership and Performance, and learn how you can motivate others more effectively, tune in to episode 21 of our podcast series ‘The Art of Focus’. You can also keep up to date with conversations with other thought leaders by subscribing to our podcast on iTunes and Stitcher Radio.


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