There are two types of leaders: those who believe that you can motivate people, and those who believe that motivation comes from within. I reside firmly in the second camp, so, for me, discussing ways to motivate—and easy ones in particular—may seem odd. But it's not. When we try to motivate people, what we're really doing is encouraging people to act on already-present motivation, ideally in a way that furthers the organization's mission.
How do we do that?
Encourage and applaud great ideas
Be clear about the strategic direction of your organization and the types of ideas that are relevant to your needs. Open and maintain dialogue about critical areas, such as reasons for shifts in consumption patterns and fluctuating attendance at weekly events.
Allow idea-sharing in many ways, both formal and informal. Conduct meetings featuring formal presentations with detailed action plans. In addition, accept pitches via e-mail, and coax brainstorming and idea-polishing through impromptu conversations.
Don’t disparage bad ideas
When people are encouraged to suggest great ideas, it’s inevitable that they will present really bad ones. To create and maintain an environment that supports innovation and creative problem-solving, help them cull through ideas independently.
Again, be clear about company direction, priorities, and needs as a way of vetting ideas. Ask:
- What will be accomplished by implementing this idea?
- What is the cost?
- What groups will you need support from?
- What alternatives have you tried to date?
- How will you test the idea?
Give guidance when needed
When starting a new project or assignment, even the most enthusiastic and conscientious employees need to understand your direction. Some may falter at certain points requiring decisions beyond their current capabilities. Others, despite depth of experience and knowledge, may get stuck at a crossroads. To keep moving forward and keep people engaged, clarify results desired, warn about pitfalls and respond to requests on specific issues.
Match assignments with talents
Those who are knowledgeable, skillful and experienced in certain disciplines excel with minimal prompting when given assignments in sync with their talents. They show initiative because they know how to launch a project; what questions to ask to define its scope and desired outcomes; what resources to gather; and what experts to consult. They self-manage to completion because they know what objectives to establish, how to evaluate whether they are on the right track and when to announce they are finished.
There may be minor tasks that are part of a project that do not fit inclinations. Reassign these duties or show how to accomplish the mundane before returning to the work that matters.
Expect great performance
Stir passion by expecting people to achieve great results. Envision in a way that indicates excited anticipation, not tyrannical demand. Support expectations through encouragement, deep respect of abilities and understanding of the challenges needed to persevere when tackling a new project, taking on more responsibility, etc.
Give time to handle personal business
Family needs, health issues and any number of personal concerns distract people from acting on their motivation. Truly motivated people concentrate on the tasks at hand rather than obsessing about their private lives. But certain things require attention: life milestones, such as a recent marriage or new baby; crises, such as an accident or death in the family; or ongoing problems, such as chronic disease.
Give appropriate amounts of time away and offer resources to assist with these concerns. Results won’t be immediate; it takes a while to handle repercussions of an accident, for example. But acknowledgment of both happy occasions and difficulties motivate people by letting them know that they can be committed to your project without forsaking personal and family needs.
Show how mundane tasks fit together to achieve great things
Sharing your vision is inspirational…eventually.
I’ve noticed that many people (especially those in new positions) don’t seem very interested in hearing about how day-to-day actions can result in an amazing future. Talking about the big picture elicits confused looks and blank stares. Your employees, volunteers, colleagues, etc. want precise instructions so that they can get things done correctly, and move quickly to more exciting endeavors.
Eventually, though, the vision and the steps needed to achieve goals make sense. When people see clearly how certain actions will take them down the desired paths, they take action and make good decisions without hesitation, on their own, by drawing upon their internal stores of motivation.