The extent to which we are motivated or demotivated in the workplace will determine how well we perform. In this post, we look at what motivates you, then fit that into relevant models of motivation and conclude by considering what the key strategies are that leaders should adopt to motivate their staff – linking these back to what effective leaders do.


image for motivation tips and increased productivity

Consider the following job characteristics and their definitions:

  • High pay: receiving a salary that will enable you to improve
    your existing standard of living;
  • Development: the opportunity to improve yourself by learning new skills and taking on more demanding work;
  • Friendly environment: working with people (including subordinates and superiors) who are friendly and approachable;
  • Autonomy: being able to set your own objectives, to plan your
    working day and have control over how you do your own
  • Security: the assurance of continued employment and a
    comfortable retirement;
  • Responsibility: the opportunity to make decisions, be accountable for the results and have control over some (or all) of the organizations’ resources, such as people, money, materials;
  • Status: recognition from others in some non-monetary tangible form of the importance of your position in the organization, such as having a secretary, an office, access to ‘upper echelon’ dining facilities;
  • Achievement: the opportunity to solve problems and be able to see the results of your efforts.

Now list three characteristics that are of the greatest importance to you in a job.

You may well ask, ‘So what?’, but what emerges (from the replies of many managers to this request to rank the characteristics) are two key factors:

  • The priorities vary enormously from person to person. There is no single ‘motivator’. Leaders cannot rely on one right answer.
  • The list changes for a given manager over time. For instance, post recession in the UK, security moved up significantly!

To explain why this list was selected, why not all of these job characteristics are ‘motivators’ and why the list can vary not only from individual to individual, but for the same individual over time, we shall now look at Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Maslow was an eminent psychologist.


Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is shown in Figure 4.1.

The key points in relation to this hierarchy are that:

  • Until lower-level needs are fulfilled, we do not progress to
    satisfying higher-level needs;
  • The hierarchy can be seen as a psychological path to maturity – Maslow suggests that any leader has the moral responsibility to help each follower to reach and fulfil higher level needs;
  • Where we are on the hierarchy will be a measure of our selfesteem and confidence, which, again, is why it is so important for us as leaders to develop self-awareness and confidence – we are ineffective leaders if we are locked into low levels of self-esteem;
  • Shocks to the system – that is, fundamental changes in our working (and other) environment – can send us tumbling down, both individually and collectively, as evidenced when civil war broke out in Bosnia;
  • We need to differentiate between lower-level needs and higher-level needs.

You will notice on the left in Figure 4.1 there is an arrow pointing upwards marked ‘motivators’ and an arrow pointing downwards marked ‘maintenance’ factors. This is a development of Maslow’s model by Herzberg, who called them ‘hygiene factors’. They are also referred to as ‘dissatisfiers’. Let us take some examples to explain the difference between them.

Assume that we enjoy an excellent in-house restaurant, which
is provided to us for no charge. This satisfies a basic need. Assume also that the powers that be decide to add two more courses to the menu. This is good news, but will not result in us dashing back to our office to put in that extra hour. Meeting a basic need does not motivate us. Similarly, if we feel totally secure in our jobs, while we may be driven by fear (not an effective motivator) to gain that security, we will not be motivated to work harder once we feel secure.

However, an announcement that the restaurant is going to be closed as part of a cost-cutting exercise will cause extreme dissatisfaction. Until we can come to terms with this removal of a basic need, then we will be distracted from focusing on higher-level needs – the things that actually motivate us.


In considering the implications of these ideas for organizations and leaders, see Figure 4.2. The outer circle consists of characteristics that define the context in which the actual job takes place, while the inner circle consist of the characteristics of the job itself. The former consists of hygiene factors and the latter of true motivators. You will notice that the eight characteristics we introduced at the beginning consisted of those hygiene factors where the leader had an element of control, as well as motivators.

Before proceeding, I have one caveat I would like to note in relation to Herzberg’s model. Interpersonal relations are considered by Herzberg to be a hygiene factor. He was carrying out his research some decades ago in the US. Interpersonal relationships are deemed to be of much higher importance in the East. Indeed, these days in the West, the importance of effective communication internally and externally – the need for cultures to consist of internal behaviours that reflect external behaviours so that customers can be delighted – is recognized as being vital to success.

Both Herzberg and, to a lesser extent, Maslow were prisoners of the present they researched. Interpersonal relationships (the ability to communicate effectively with other human beings) rank alongside achievement, responsibility and so on as motivators. That is also the view of such culture experts as Roger Harrison.

Before looking at the key motivational strategies, relevant points to make here are as follows:

  • All the four action areas for an effective leader (set out in Figure 1.2, page 7) and the actions that flow from them are motivators, providing the timing is right. Putting work into its context is fundamental, particularly the need to provide vision and targets. As someone once said, ‘You cannot aim the rifle if you have not got a target’. If we have a picture of an exciting future, we are automatically moving towards fulfilling the highest-level need. Having clear, agreed, shorter term goals and targets provides the route map along the way. ‘Developing the follower’ – using the S1 to S4 leadership styles in progression – enables us as leaders to move our followers along the psychological path to maturity. ‘Leading by example’ is necessary to ensure that our followers believe what we say as they see consistency of action to match the fine leadership words. Additionally ‘people buy people not products’ and so effective leaders become beacons of light in the darkness.
  • The differences between hygiene factors were never recognized during decades of industrial strife and are not sufficiently recognized today. In the past, and some parts of the present, trade unions focus on pay and terms and conditions. This is because managers fail to provide true motivators. In their absence, the focus of attention becomes dissatisfiers. Of course, with growing work insecurities, the increasing use of individual (and not team) targets, the carrot of more money and the stick of redundancy, employees turn their attention to dissatisfiers – such as ‘How much money can I make?’ and ‘What is my status in this organization?’ Yet, many years ago, I came across a large company where the workplace was team-based – a stimulating, challenging and fun environment. Competitors would seek to tempt the stars away with financial offers of more than a third above current packages – to no avail.


top tips for motivating staff

The following are what followers say are the most motivating strategies leaders should adopt: When I looked again at the list, I realized that, almost without exception, the strategies were absent or very weak in most current cultures. We are thus seeking motivation where it is lacking.

Promote effective feedback

Feedback is not generally promoted. It certainly is not promoted by the annual downwards appraisal, which both parties tend to dread and so defer for as long as possible. In these appraisals, leaders tell followers where they are weak (S1 domination), or where they are strong and weak (S2), or they praise and say the followers are brilliant (to avoid a demotivated backlash) (S3), or just accept whatever the follower says (S4).

The key to effective feedback lies in the skill of ‘promoting discovery’, covered in the upcoming post, and its use in feedback situations.

Receiving effective feedback is highly motivating as it provides certainty where there was doubt, acknowledges the strengths (including those we may not have fully appreciated) we are demonstrating that are relevant to the job we undertake and ensures we have an action plan (usually involving both parties) to develop and grow so that we do our job better, have a greater sense of achievement and can walk along the path to more challenging and stimulating work.

Provide supportive leadership/adapt your leadership styles

Providing supportive leadership arises from an excess of S1. As leaders, we often think – mostly unconsciously – that this is the heart of what leadership is all about.

Followers mention adapting your leadership styles because of the general inflexibility of leadership styles they see around them. Leaders become comfortable with a given style or style combination.


I think it is ironic that so many leaders are stressed out of their minds because they won’t delegate. Reasons are:

  • Perceived lack of time;
  • Belief that they are the most competent to do the job;
  • Lack of faith in the follower;
  • Fear that if they delegate away their jobs, they will have no jobs to keep.

Followers, however, are crying out for more challenging and stimulating work so that they can take on more responsibility, achieve more, develop and grow.

If leaders recognize that any follower has the potential to improve, and that effective delegation is a process that needs to be planned – not a simple act of dumping – then stress would reduce significantly for all parties involved.

Equally, if you are successful, you will be praised for running such a splendid ship and be able to make a greater contribution to the strategic end of your role.

Allow Risk-taking

Taking risks is a prerequisite to learning, and learning is necessary in a world of change – change being defined here as ‘making or becoming different’. Many leaders blame when mistakes are made and discourage risk-taking.

The key to success is to manage risks. By means of effective coaching and review processes, what risks can be taken can be agreed and parameters set, avoiding the consequences of just letting go (S4) or keeping total control (S1).

Train And Develop

While many organizations are introducing formal training and development programmes and personal development plans as the back-end of the appraisal process, many are not. Moreover, the training and development process has to be effective. We in the training world use the jargon ‘user chooser’.

Where the employee determines and chooses what training they have, the process is much more effective than when they are sent for ‘remedial therapy’ or where the development plans have been told or sold, but not discovered. Additionally, many training establishments rely too heavily on lecturing, not knowing that is not the way we learn. Indeed, research carried out by the UK Post Office and IBM (UK) proves that if we are lectured at, we remember 70 per cent after three days and a miserly 10 per cent after three months (and after a few years, I would suggest hardly anything at all).

However, if input is supported by explanation, then we are tested (preferably in small, effective study groups) and then there is a shared review of the results/experience to produce short cuts or new knowledge, our memory after three days soars above 85 per cent and after three months is above 65 per cent.

Generate High Expectations

In one company, once, the CEO decided that the staff should set their own targets, and not have them mandated or set for them. The managers were very dubious about this (but, of course, had to go along with it) as they assumed the employees would be lazy – setting themselves low, easily achievable targets. Much to their surprise, they found the reverse happened and they had to try and persuade their staff to reduce their targets, which they felt were so high, they would not be achieved, which would demotivate the staff.

Provide Goals

As noted earlier, ‘You cannot aim a rifle, if you have no target.’

Acknowledge Achievement

A single word of praise has more motivational power than a thousand words of blame.