5 Aug, 2018

Motivation doesn’t work!

How do you get the best out of people?

Take 20 minutes to read this post and watch the two videos to transform the way you see and understand motivation and how to get the best out of yourself and your people.

Typically, in business, we leap to the ideas of ‘carrot and stick.’ People will be motivated to work hard, faster and smarter if we offer them more rewards (performance-linked pay rises, bonuses, promotions and the like) or the consequences of low motivation are more severe (performance improvement plans, penalties, demotions and other disciplinary measures). This isn’t motivation it’s a combination of bullying and bribery – and all the evidence shows that it simply doesn’t work.

There are, in fact, three types of motivation:

  • Motivation away from something – people are driven by fear or dissatisfaction with the current state of affairs.. While it can be powerful, it is also short-lived. We get a bit fitter, we put distance between ourselves and the incident that triggers it, we make a bit of progress and… “Oh, that’s good enough” and we revert to old behaviours.
  • Motivation towards a goal – this will have better effects. If you can see what you are aiming for and know the benefits, it can be worth the struggle. In business, the big challenge is that the work environment is usually fast moving and the goals change. People get excited by something new but then are disappointed when it is abandoned.
  • Enjoying the journey – if you love what you are doing and enjoy the challenge, motivation is easy. Some of us love what we do. The majority, however, are getting by. They show up, do the job and go home.

Motivation then is short-lived and, if I may be so bold, it doesn’t work. Where it comes, it comes from within – not from anything you as a leader can do.


The difference between success and failure is not motivation. If you want to release discretionary effort from your teams – that’s when they put their full self into the role and are fully engaged – you need to find another way.

What people want is Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose. As a combination, that adds up to inspiration. 

  • Give people the freedom to act. If they want to something to change, let them take the lead on changing it instead of ‘lobbing it over the wall’ for you to change. Make it their project.
  • Allow them to make their own mistakes in confidence that they won’t be ‘blamed.’ Create a culture of ‘no failure, only learning.’
  • And, finally, make sure everyone knows what they are there for and the contribution they make. The man who sweeps the floor at NASA is still putting men on the moon….

Four steps to build inspiration in your teams

  1. Watch this video of a talk given by Dan Pink.
2. Where do you love autonomy? What do you seek to master? What is your purpose?

3. Ask your team how their role contributes to the organisation’s goals, vision and purpose (be prepared to be shocked by the answers – the vast majority won’t know).

4. Where can you give your team more autonomy – what decisions could they make for themselves? How much freedom to learn can you give them?

If you are looking to bring autonomy, mastery and purpose to your team, we are helping people in organisations to be better than their best.


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