Motivation Skills

See also: Delegation Skills - How to Delegate

How do you keep your team going through good times and bad? Are you one of those people who seems to be able to keep the members of their team positive, enthusiastic and hard-working even at the toughest times, or to keep their family going even when everything is going wrong? Or do you really wish you were?

The word motivation comes from the Latin movere, meaning to move, via ‘motive’, meaning causing motion, concerned with the initiation of action. Motivation is therefore, in its purest sense, the incentive towards action.

Motivation, then, is what drives us to achieve our goals. But what can you do to increase the motivation of those you lead? There are a few surprisingly simple areas which will make a huge difference.


Motivational Techniques

As our page on self-motivation points out, there are two main types of motivation: intrinsic and extrinsic. These can broadly be described as:

Intrinsic = love. In other words, “I do this because I want to”

Extrinsic = money. In other words, “I do this because I have to”.

In both work and life, you will come across people who are motivated by both factors, and most often by a mixture of the two. People’s motivations will also change at different times, and for different tasks. In order to lead effectively, you need to be aware of the balance between intrinsic and extrinsic motivations for each of those you lead and, particularly, what are the things that they love, that they would almost be prepared to do without being paid. You can then use different rewards for different people, perhaps providing some with more challenging work as a reward for achieving goals, and others with additional time off.

Provide Interesting and Stimulating Work

Once you know what your staff really like to do, then you can start to provide work that will be interesting and stimulating to them. Work design has a really strong impact on performance. Researchers have identified three basic characteristics of tasks that lead to boredom at work, which in turn leads to lack of motivation. These are:

  • Quantitative underload, which basically means not having enough to do;
  • Qualitative underload, when tasks are simple and unchallenging; and
  • Qualitative overload, when individuals are asked to do tasks which are too complex, and ‘switch off’ because they feel unable to achieve what they have been asked to do.

Fisher, C.D. (1993) 'Boredom at work: a neglected concept', Human Relations, 46(3), 395-417

As leader, it is your job to ensure that work is designed in a way that avoids all three of these pitfalls as much and as often as possible.

There are several things that you can do, as a manager or leader, to help alleviate boredom at work.


Suppose you are the manager of a canteen or self-service restaurant, where staff are likely to suffer from qualitative underload, you could:

  • Ensure that tasks are rotated, so that nobody has time to feel bored in any particular task;
  • Ensure that there is variety in every task. For example, those clearing away in the canteen should all be encouraged to stack and remove trays, wipe tables and clear the tray trolleys away to the washing up station, rather than one stacking, one removing, one wiping tables, and one removing the trolleys;
  • Show solidarity (‘walk the walk’) by helping out at busy times, to demonstrate the value that you place on the work that your staff do.

Set Challenging but Achievable Goals

Setting goals for and with others is an art. Too challenging, and they will not believe they can achieve it. Not challenging enough, and it certainly won’t be motivating. You won’t get this right first time but, don’t worry, nobody does. The important point is to be flexible.

If you got the goal wrong, adjust it to circumstances, agree the new goal and move on. Consider it an iterative process, and not a one-off.

Provide the Right Rewards

There are hundreds of books devoted to setting up reward systems, and it is not something that we can cover on this page.

But whether dealing with children or colleagues, the important things to remember are that:

  • Your reward system needs to recognise and reward the behaviour that you want to see.
  • Rewards should be personally tailored.
  • Rewards should not be complex.

Quite often, praise is enough, although it does have to be sincere and also genuinely merited. As we note on our Feedback page, insincerity is easy to detect.

If you think about motivating your children, the importance of tailoring the reward system will become obvious. Your four year old may be motivated by the promise of a sweetie for good behaviour, but your nine year old is probably more sophisticated. As an example of a more complex reward system, take a look at our case study below to see a carefully-thought out system that rewarded exactly the behaviour the company wanted from its employees.

Case study: Handymen R Us


Handymen R Us provides handymen services around the London area. Handymen each have their own list of jobs for the day, controlled by a central office that allocates work, giving an estimated time for each job.

Customers are charged for actual time taken, in half-hour increments, with a ‘job fee’ on top. Handymen are paid a percentage of what they earn for the company, and the office tries to ensure that each handyman gets a reasonable balance of short and long jobs. If a customer is not satisfied with the work, the same handyman has to return to sort the problem without charging the customer for the repeat visit, or ‘call-back’.

The company also runs a system of customer feedback, where the handyman who has the most positive feedback in any month gets a small prize.


The reward system has therefore been designed to encourage handymen:

  • To complete jobs promptly. Deliberately taking longer over a job, and therefore earning more from that customer, means that they will earn less overall, as they will do fewer jobs, and therefore earn fewer ‘job fees’. This improves the reputation of the company for delivering on its time estimates, and not wasting customers’ time;
  • Conversely, not to rush the job, since a call-back costs them income; and
  • To seek customer feedback, ensuring that the company stays aware of what its customers value about its services.


Further Reading from Skills You Need


The Skills You Need Concise Guide to Leadership

The Concise Guide to Leadership eBooks

Learn more about the skills you need to be an effective leader.

Our eBooks are ideal for new and experienced leaders and are full of easy-to-follow practical information to help you to develop your leadership skills.


In Summary

Motivating others is one of the greatest challenges of leadership. All the elements outlined here will help, but not unless you yourself are motivated to carry out your job.

If you are unmotivated, you will not be able to motivate others.

Keep on top of your personal motivation through some of the ideas on our self-motivation page to ensure that you are able to keep your team going, even in the bad times.

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