Motivation is a key ingredient for any achievement – personal or professional, individual or collaborative.   

“We choose to go to the moon in this decade, and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.” 

– U.S. president John F. Kennedy, 1962 

 Today, the moon doesn’t seem very far away, but, at the time, getting there would represent the pinnacle of human achievement – mankind would have mastered the forces of the universe. Kennedy used the Apollo mission to represent the spirit with which he wanted to lead America and the world. The moon-shot was a motivation to solve problems, to do more, to go further.  

The importance of motivation 

Motivation is the single most important contributor to success, according to leading psychology researcher Dr Anders Ericsson. However we may define success, motivation is that combination of ambition and dedication that enables us to fulfil our goals. And, if we don’t have the necessary expertise, it includes the wherewithal to find that knowledge and gain those skills.   

In the workplace, motivation edges employees up the ladder from being satisfied at work to being inspired. This impacts the bottom line: research shows that inspired employees’ productivity is more than double that of satisfied workers. The added dimensions to productivity and performance happen because motivated people do tasks faster, and look for ways to do things better. In service businesses, motivated employees will go the extra mile to satisfy, or even exceed, customers’ expectations.   So, greater efficiency and improved quality are linked to workplace motivation.  

Not convinced? Think of the added costs associated with a lack of motivation, including absenteeism, higher staff turnover, recruitment and retraining costs. Lower motivation is one of the forces behind ‘quiet quitting’, a new phrase to describe limited or no engagement and generally poor participation at work, which is a growing problem, worldwide.  

The nuances of motivation 

Motivation: that gee-ed up feeling, the little spark in our synapses that says, ‘time for action!’ In psychological terms, motivation is described as an internal process that shifts us. Simply, we do something because we want something.  

But there are complexities within the mix of feelings and emotions that motivate. And there are degrees of motivation, from the powerful but effortless spurs when we are passionately committed, to low-grade prompts around more routine aspects of life.   

Let’s be honest: we don’t always feel motivated, and kindling that spark can be difficult. Sometimes we feel obligated, so the goal when we take on a task is to box it up in a way which is good enough to get by. Often, too, we are locked into doing something because it is a necessary supplement to what we really want to do. A pilot, for example, feels passionate about flying, but he doesn’t wake up on the morning of a flight thinking, ‘I’m looking forward to doing my engine checks and pre take-off paperwork.’  

And even if we are precisely where we want to be, doing work we enjoy, there are distractions which eat into our motivation.  

Intrinsic versus extrinsic motivators 

Broadly, motivators can be classified as either intrinsic or extrinsic. Intrinsic motivations are those factors which incline people to act because they find the task inherently rewarding. They take pride in being of service, for instance, or their work itself fulfils their sense of purpose.   

But if you’re a leader or manager you will have experienced that people are also motivated – often more powerfully so – by carrots and sticks. These are extrinsic motivators, and you have probably used both to improve your team’s performance. It needs to be recognised that monetary rewards are central to many people’s motivation at work, and that the tacit threat of demotion or losing one’s job is a significant spur to maintaining the right habits and levels of performance.  

 Know your people 

Part of being a good manager is understanding when to use extrinsic motivators as a motivational tool, and to what extent. The best advice is to know your people. Some may care deeply about the company’s purpose, and are motivated primarily by working towards that mission each day. Others may buy into the purpose, but are incentivised to go the extra mile by the prospect of bonuses. As for sticks, while in theory making people feel they belong and can perform to their best should minimise the need to prod employees along, in reality all large organisations have to deal with disciplinary and performance-related issues. If these trend downwards, and learnings are taken from each problematic issue, consider that as progress in terms of the motivational balance.   

 Self-motivation, and motivating others  

If we have the choice to be motivated, are there things we can do to get and stay motivated? At work, how can we improve the motivation of those around us? Here are ten tips to increase your personal motivation and to help motivate others:  

  1. Identify what motivates you. This may not be easy, because we often have subconscious motivations. Still, try to understand yourself on issues such as how you value relationships, your prioritisation of wealth or wellness or a balance of both, career goals and life ambitions. Be as specific as you can. Knowing your underlying motivators helps to guide your decisions and actions.  
  2. Associate with affirming people. “We become what we love and who we love shapes what we become,” said the 12th-century nun St. Clare of Assisi. Surround yourself with people who believe in you. Studies prove that this boosts our motivation, confidence and self-belief. 
  3. Set goals. Whatever your motivational approach and techniques, you won’t know whether they are working unless you set targets. Make minor goals for the short-term, as milestones towards bigger ones. Dreaming big is great, but clear signs of progress – even if they are small, incremental steps – help to keep alive the flame of motivation. 
  4. Persevere, but be flexible. Psychology studies tell us that motivation isn’t a switch to be turned ‘on’. It emerges and develops over time. Its power can change, too, or be replaced by a different motivator, based on discoveries or new circumstances. 
  5. Develop a growth mindset. This ties in with perseverance. Carol Dweck, probably the most eminent psychologist specialising in research about mindset, found that mindset and motivation are closely linked. How we interpret our situation and prospects is significantly influenced by our assumptions, values and beliefs. If we are open to new ideas, willing to engage with others, and keen to learn, then the chances are that the sparks of motivation will emerge naturally. 
  6. Think about the organisation’s culture. Motivated, cohesive performance is engendered by, and is the responsibility of, leaders and managers. Do they equip their people with appropriate tools, so that there is a baseline level of motivation? Are there clear processes to follow, so that persistence is enabled and encouraged? Do leaders help employees to feel inspired, and insist on high performance? 
  7. Unify the team’s motivation. Effective and sustained teamwork requires every individual to pull towards the same goal. However, people are motivated by different things. Some employees will be passionate about the industry; others may be keenly committed only to selected aspects of their jobs; others are possibly jaded but still contribute meaningfully because they are motivated by their earnings. Identify the appropriate motivational triggers across the team.    
  8. Build confidence. Sports psychologist Tim Harkness has developed a formula to increase the motivation of individuals and the team as a whole: Motivation = (Reward ÷ Task) x Confidence. This helps to understand the links between potential benefit (the reward) and the specific task – and the importance of confidence. If we can inspire others to have confidence, and grow the reward in proportion to the size of the task, motivation increases.   
  1. Balance accountability with autonomy. Individuals, and the team, will have goals they must deliver upon. But people appreciate some independence and freedom to fulfil their responsibilities in the way they prefer. Being trusted usually helps motivate employees to do their best work.
  2. Emphasise employee wellness. Much has been written about the increasing importance of employee wellness, but it boils down to this: employees who feel valued will value their employer. Motivation is partly, if not strongly, correlated to a holistic employee experience. 


 Still looking for inspiration?  

If you haven’t yet found your special motivational trigger, take heart. You can still be an action-oriented person, because a motivated mindset can be cultivated. Motivational guru James Clear notes that some people approach a situation with the mindset of exploring possibilities to make it work, while others default to thinking there are too many reasons why it can’t. “Both people will be forced to deal with reality, but the first [type of] person will only have to solve problems that actually occur, while the second [type] will often avoid taking action entirely because of the potential problems they have dreamt up before starting,” he says.  

There is powerful advice within this observation. With conscious effort we can train ourselves to be problem-solvers rather than procrastinators, to pushing the play button more often rather than pausing. Looking at motivation from this perspective, it is a muscle which can be built through practise and the right habits. “People often say that motivation doesn’t last. Well, neither does bathing – that’s why we recommend it daily,” said the famous salesperson Zig Ziglar. (Predictably, he became a motivational speaker).   

As such, it’s possible to motivate ourselves and those around us by habituating the 10 tips above. Remember, this is the essence: motivation is what gears us to do things, so to be truly motivated, we need to know what we want to do.  

So, what do you want your team to accomplish? What’s your moon-shot? 


Contact us about a forthcoming short course, Emotional Intelligence, which will help to improve your powers of motivation and to lead your team more effectively. 


Written By: 

Gavin Olivier 

Senior Partner and Managing Executive 



In partnership with Dave Gorin