Discover the Secret to Effectively Motivating Those Around You

  • What would having a solid and proven means to motivate those around you… do for you?
  • Would you use a formula that motivated those you work with or train, if it resulted in that person learning better, practicing what they learned, and applying it on the job?
  • What about you? Would you like to know the secret to getting and staying motivated?

Are you prepared for some surprising news?

Actually the “secret” is no secret at all. The arena of motivational science has uncovered proven means to motivate ourselves and others. The means to motivate (or destroy motivation) have been rigorously tested in the laboratory and reinforced by studies in the workplace.

This short blog allows for only an introduction to motivational science, but it will provide a way for you to get started, if you are interested in learning more.

If I had to shorten this blog’s message to one sentence it would be the following.

“You don’t need to motivate people, you simply need to create the situation or the environment for others natural or intrinsic motivational instincts to take over!”

One of the most successful models of motivation is built on:

  1. Autonomy,
  2. Mastery, and
  3. Purpose

The formula provides a path to getting motivated, staying motivated, performing better, and even being more successful and happier in the workplace. The formal name for the model is “self-determination theory” and it has been around years. Surprisingly, in spite of its tremendous power and potential, it has been largely ignored by the private and public sector (and talent development) communities for as many years.


Autonomy may be the most important of the three principles. Humans thrive in autonomous situations. We need to be somewhat self-directed, in order to be satisfied with our jobs and motivated to perform at increasingly higher levels. Of course there must be accountability, but employees need the freedom to search for information, uncover alternatives, and implement their own self-discovered solutions.

This doesn’t mean giving employees total independence, but as Daniel Pink says in his book, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, It means acting with choice – which means we can be both autonomous and happily interdependent with others.”

But you may wonder how one provides or promotes autonomy. Again, Pink provides a few proven means from the research or methods employed by managers to increase employee job satisfaction by providing “autonomy support”.


How do we as supervisors, team leaders, or trainers create the conditions for autonomy?

Pink writes that, if you want to promote autonomy, you should:

  1. See issues from the employees point of view,
  2. Give meaningful feedback and information,
  3. Provide ample choice over what to do and how to do it, and
  4. Encourage employees to take on new projects.


People strive for mastery; it motivates them to keep going and is proven to make them happier at work. No one has done more work in this arena that Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, (cheek-sent-me-high) the psychologist and well-known writer, who is probably best known for his concept of “flow”. You may recognize the term from sports, where athletes talk about being fully immersed or engaged in the moment and not only feeling in control, able to perform at their peak, but even feeling an immense joy at being in this state.

This is the same flow state that people can achieve in the workplace. Flow happens while people seek to master a new task or skill and lose themselves in focused concentration. This concentration can be so intense and engaging, that one loses track of time. People find these experiences immensely rewarding and enjoyable. When the conditions for flow are created in the workplace, people become increasingly engaged on the job.

I’m sure you’ve heard colleagues say many times that they can’t wait for the weekend or even to retire, in order to engage in what they think will make them feel their best or “reach a flow state” if they were using Csikszentmihalyi’s language. Surprisingly, after many replicated studies, it is well documented that people are more likely to achieve flow while at work, than during their leisure activities!


How do we as supervisors, team leaders, or trainers create these conditions for flow, that lead to mastery?

To create the conditions for flow, the following must occur.

  1. The employee must have clear goals or objectives and a means to gauge progress toward the goal.
  2. The task must be accompanied by clear and immediate feedback.
  3. The employee should be given challenging tasks (indeed stretch assignments or tasks are those that are most likely to result in flow), but the person must have the skills and the confidence to tackle the task at hand.

As a leader, supervisor, or trainer, if you want to motivate, then seek to create the right conditions so that employees are able to seek mastery and the individual will do the rest.


Work must have a purpose for individuals, if they are to be truly motivated in the workplace. But the good news is that the vast majority of people in the workplace welcome the opportunity to serve, whether it is in service to clients, colleagues, teammates, or family.

Elizabeth Moss Kanter of the Harvard Business School puts it this way, “People can be inspired to meet stretch goals and tackle impossible challenges, if they care about the outcome.”

Adam Grant, of the University of Pennsylvania, and the author of the book “Give and Take”, provides further evidence that people perform better when they feel purpose driven. In a controlled call center (a call center for a college fundraising entity) Grant divided call center employees into three groups. One group received information nightly about the benefit of working in the call center, while the second group received information about the good things that had happened to students who were the recipients of the fundraising scholarships, and the last group (the control group) received no additional information. The second group, who heard about the how scholarships had changed lives and given recipients new and better opportunities doubled their fundraising over the other two groups. Surprisingly the effect continued for many months after the study ended. People are motivated by having a purpose larger than themselves.


How do we as supervisors, team leaders, or trainers allow employees to find or connect with their purpose?

  1. Help them find the why? Explore with employees why some are motivated and others not. Share the stories of what motivates those who find purpose in serving your clients or customers.
  2. Take a tip from Adam Grant and capture the good works or stories that resulted from people using your products or benefiting from the assistance provided by your agency.
  3. Use what Robert Reich, former U.S. Secretary of Labor calls the pronoun test. Do people in your organization talk about us and we, or they and them? Does this extend from the top of the organization to the bottom? If not, then examine why. Companies where people feel they are part of a “we culture”, perform better. In fact, Jim Collins, author of Good to Great, believes that truly great companies always have level five leaders. Level five leaders, he says, never talk about or seek to embellish their reputations before talking about what the organization has accomplished. These leaders are humble; they share credit for success and are not afraid to accept the blame for mistakes. They create great companies by creating a culture of we.

A parting thought on motivation

Remember, people motivate themselves. Tap into their intrinsic motivation (motivation that comes from inside and is not based on external carrots or sticks) by creating the conditions so employees can be optimally motivate themselves. It won’t be easy to do, but the results will be worth it.

Motivated people produce more, are more creative and innovative, and they are happier and more optimistic. They are just the sort of people you want surrounding and supporting you in the workplace.

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Bruce Winner

Bruce Winner

Bruce Winner, MBA, has been a trainer, program developer, business owner, training manager, and active participant and consultant in the association industry during his professional career.

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