Motivation: Three Things that Affect It

“I think it all comes down to motivation. If you really want to do something, you will work hard for it.” Sir Edmund Hillary

Motivation: The general desire or willingness of someone to do something.


During my training and coaching sessions with leaders, one of the most frequently asked questions I get is “How can I be a better motivator for my people?” My answer is simple: “You can’t motivate your people.” This often leads to very animated discussions on this topic. My favorite response to their arguments is a question. I ask them if they call each of their employees every morning an hour before work starts to see if they’re coming in for the day. When they say that they don’t (I haven’t had anybody say “yes” yet!), I remark that these people are somehow motivated to come into work. The employee also makes their own choice on the quality or amount of work they do each day. Of course, there are rewards and/or consequences based on how well they perform their work, but it’s still the employee’s choice on how they perform that day.

What motivates people can actually be quite fluid. They can change at the drop of a hat. Sometimes, they change slowly over time. The fact of the matter is, the things that motivate people can and will change over the course of their lifetime.

What influences your motivators? Here’s my list:

1.      What’s going on in your personal life: If you like to follow my columns, you’ve noticed that I haven’t written one in quite a while.  I lost my motivation to write because life got in the way. This Spring, my wife and I made the decision to sell our home, so my motivation was to prepare the house for sale. I know, it’s a bad excuse for not writing. But it’s the truth. Things like health issues or family issues (good or bad) fall under this category.

2.      What’s going on at work: A former employer of mine had a labor reduction about 15 years ago. A good number of people from their IT department were let go, all on the same day. Things like this happen all the time in corporate America, but this was the first time that this company had ever laid people off. Everyone was shocked! People came to this company and did not leave until they retired. Two weeks later, I was conducting a training session for 25 of the company’s mid-level leaders. I asked them to prioritize a list of motivators that I provided. All 25 people listed “job security” as their #1 motivator. I asked the group if this would have been their #1 motivator if we done this exercise prior to the IT layoff. Every person in the room said no.

3.      What’s going on in the world: Many Baby Boomers that are close to retirement have built up savings that they will use to live on in their retirement. The “pot of gold” is there and ready to be accessed! For many of these people, money is not a big motivator. They’re just waiting for the day to come when they leave the workforce. If their pot of gold is invested in the stock market and it suddenly takes a big tumble, guess what? Money suddenly has become a motivator. “Can I still retire when I want to?” If I still want to retire at my desired time, do I need to take on a second job?”

Things that are going on in these three categories can and will affect the things that motivate each one of us.

So, what can you do as a leader to motivate your people? Nothing. However, you can find out what motivates them and do your best to provide for those things. How do you find out what their motivators are? It’s simple – you ask! Maintain great lines of communication with your people and constantly keep your finger on the pulse of how they are doing. If you lead a large group of people, keep a written log.

Take motivators seriously! The motivation levels of the members of your team can make or break you and the group that you lead.

Kevin JurekComment