How you can spark motivation at work

Beat Blue Monday and unleash motivation: 7 levers to boost team performance

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“To engage staff, leaders may be tempted to simply ‘sell’ reasons for staff to be passionate about their role. But this approach is highly unlikely to succeed. The best performers are motivated by work that is rewarding in itself: work that gives meaning to their lives or develops their skills,” says Professor Randall S Peterson, Professor of Organisational Behaviour at London Business School.

“This is particularly pertinent today given the growth in the service economy: people really are an organisation’s most important asset. So for success, employee engagement has never been more important.”

A recent study carried out by London Business School’s Leadership Institute, which Professor Peterson directs, found that among the 1200+ managers and business leaders from around the world who took part, employee engagement was the single biggest issue keeping leaders awake at night.*

As a first step, managers can focus team discussions around:

  • how projects can be meaningful;
  • how each individual makes a unique contribution to the team; and,
  • the role the team plays within an organisation in achieving overall organisational goals.

Such an approach can be crucial in developing what’s called ‘intrinsic motivation’, which is the type of motivation which taps into people’s natural internal drive, energy and dedication.

“If people truly believe in the value of the work they do, they hold power in their hands. But put simply, they have to feel good about their work and its contribution to something bigger and meaningful,” explains Professor Peterson.

As part of this, he sets out seven key levers based on existing research that have been proven to improve the performance of a team and the key people in it.

1. Job design. Can you redesign or tailor jobs to fit specific individuals and their values and preferences? Can you add or subtract parts of jobs and reassign them to suit the individuals who are in the roles now? You need to understand what motivates each individual team member.

2. Training. What skills does this person need or want that you could provide? Think differently about training here: it doesn’t have to be formal. There are wonderful ways to train your team – think, for example, about reverse mentoring and job shadowing.

3. Participation in decision-making. Can you include members of the team in decision-making for the group or organisation? Or at least consult them on important decisions? Do you use the results from employee surveys?

4. Strong selection. Do they respect, value or even admire their teammates and want to work with them? Do new hires share the same values as existing employees?

5. Dealing with poor performers. Are there processes to allow you to move out those who are under-delivering?

6. Clear and transparent rules. Is everyone held to the same rules as rewards are given? This is where clear human resource (HR) policies come in. Do your people feel a sense of fairness within the office? If they don’t, find why they think it is unfair and do what you can to fix real or imagined inequity. Perceptions that the ‘system’ is fair are crucial.

7. Competitive pay. Is the pay on a par with what they could earn elsewhere? This is not to say you have to, or even want to, be the best payer in your industry. Remember, money is not the only motivating force, and for most people who earn even a living wage, not a terribly effective one either.

*A survey carried out by London Business School of 1248 senior directors and executives, of which almost three quarters come from global organisations, multinationals and large companies.

Further information regarding London Business School’s survey is available here.