Cultivate and Sustain Motivation [Part 2]

Part 1 of this article was published on August 2, 2018 and can be viewed here.

The individual

Getting the right people in the right seats on your bus, and diligently removing the wrong ones at every stop, allows you to forget about creating motivation and instead focus on cultivating and sustaining it. Personnel can be taught many things such as discipline of process and procedure (which is critical), but things such as discipline of character, ethics, and beliefs are not easily taught. These characteristics form the basis of a trustworthy individual who can be granted autonomy and the resources to intrinsically seek success.

An intense and rigorous hiring process may be cumbersome, but the true price of a hastily vetted employee is not fully realized until it dissolves. Hiring is the most opportune time to manipulate the constitution of your team. At this critical point, you have the power to control how that individual will integrate into the team.

Make it a priority to hire top talent who also fit the functional role. Unproductive and disengaged employees can dilute overall team performance, so hiring should be a shared responsibility. Ask human resources and talent management how candidates are recruited and onboarded. Find out what initially attracted the candidate to the company, and what questions are being asked to discern a mutually beneficial business fit.

Encourage your team to share aspects of the company that inspire them to help build profiles of top performers. Each employee should be an ambassador and practitioner of the company’s mission statement, which will help attract more talented and motivated contributors. Provide employees with the resources and materials that support their ability to aid the organization’s goals. The most impactful thing that individuals in a team and company can do to sustain motivation is to be engaged and outspoken.

The leader

Keeping the distinct personalities that form a team working in unison is the function of the manager or team leader. Leaders are also responsible for shepherding motivation within their respective teams. This might involve being the voice of the team to ensure ready access and investment in the tools and training necessary for mastery and autonomy, and ultimately success.

The modern leader guides their team through a visualized path to success by helping to prioritize tasks, eliminate obstacles, and encourage progress through rewards, rather than realizing performance and setting goals.(1) This tenet informs the situational leadership approach, which gives managers a robust template for moderating their leadership style based on each employee’s stage of development to reflect the dynamic nature of the workplace.(2)

When leaders base their professional relationships on this model, interactions can proceed with clarity and discipline, allowing employees to achieve the desired output and maturity level. Leaders are able to more effectively solicit behavioral improvement through directing, coaching, supporting, or delegating (Figure 3). As employees become more confident and competent in their functions, leaders are able to mirror that progression by shifting from a training instructor role to that of a mentor persona. Trust and autonomy are exchanged as employees mature in their craft and accountability.


Figure 3. Successful leaders adapt their methods relative to the person or group being influenced, as well as the task at hand. Leaders can determine the appropriate approach for a given situation based on the maturity of the employee.

The situational leadership model implies that leaders must constantly adjust to different situations, sometimes even employing a combination of techniques, to deal with different personalities and team conflicts. The model provides a framework for managers to counsel their team. As people enter and exit the organization and employees progress, leaders have a tool to assess skillsets and adjust the environment to persistently motivate the team.

Leaders need the right information to map employees’ skills and strengths against the situational leadership curve. On-the-job competency evaluations, personality assessments, and strengths and aptitude tests can provide invaluable insights into team interactions and inform leadership approaches suited to each employee.

Acknowledgment of desired behaviors and results in the form of direct, timely, and relevant feedback is a powerful motivator. Such feedback is essential for employees to know how their interpretation of team goals manifests in their output. Feedback becomes the primary conduit to communicate performance versus expectations and personnel development plans. Keep in mind that the more that you practice it, the better you will be at doing it.

The team

Culture, core values, and mission statement are the responsibility of the entire team and/or company, but these vital aspects of motivation require buy-in from individuals and leaders. The relationship between the team, leaders, and individuals follows a cascading model. Internal drivers pass through leaders’ situational management styles and the team environment, while external drivers that govern employee behavior (e.g., policies, procedures, financial incentives) propagate back down through the organization (Figure 4). This model accounts for the individual’s degree of choice for their behavior. It illustrates that the primary role of a team or organization is to formalize the social and cognitive rules agreed to by individuals and leaders.(3)


Figure 4. The relationship between individuals, leaders, and the team can be represented by nested circles. Leaders manage internal motivators of each individual, which propagate to the entire team environment. External motivators that govern the team cascade back through leaders and affect employee behavior and motivation.

Extrinsic motivators that propagate down to individuals can be regulated in either a controlled or self-determined way. These two fascinating concepts close the loop between intrinsic and extrinsic motivators. When people encounter pain or strife when working toward a goal (e.g., complying with an external request), cognitive dissonance permits that person to internalize some sense of ownership for the outcome to rationalize the experience. People also possess an inherent tendency to internalize the regulation of a behavior that was originally under an external control. Humans crave control and will relentlessly seek to regain it.

The team that follows the tenants of Motivation 2.0 challenges and empowers individuals with training and additional responsibilities, and then gives them the freedom to pioneer and add value. There is a stark difference, however, between catering to and nurturing individuals. Leaders should avoid being too impressionable by the compulsions of the team. Leaders who overly indulge their staff may find themselves at the precipice of a slippery slope of false precedents and misapplied rewards.

Putting it together

It takes the right individuals, leadership skills, and team environment to foster motivation. Whether you are a leader or a team member, follow these guidelines to help motivate your team.

Communicate, communicate, communicate. It is amazing how many problems in life and work can be solved by effective communication. Open dialogue eradicates misunderstandings and allows people to deal objectively to circumvent the need for assumptions. Communication signals intent, and it also helps to align purpose and function, as well as boost morale. Alignment to personal motivators is pivotal in building intrinsic motivation.

Say yes to happy hour. Technology has become a vital part of the workplace, but it is a tool, not an end. A step counter does not guarantee you will lose 20 pounds, but it empowers you with information and a means to track progress. Technology can unite people, transcending organizational, geographical, and even cultural divides to enable elevated levels of workforce collaboration. Nevertheless, technology is no substitute for human contact.

Find as many excuses as possible to bring together your team in a fun and meaningful way. Breakfast clubs, luncheons, book clubs, and happy hours all help to unite people and build rapport. Employees feel more motivated to help individuals and teams that they trust, where they feel a personal connection and a vested sense of accountability. Trust is the bedrock of a productive and successful team, and without it, there will be no healthy exchange of ideas.(4)

Make work fun. The fictional character Tom Sawyer was able to convince an entire band of children to assume his chore of whitewashing a picket fence. He was a genius motivational psychologist because he appealed to the joy and self-actualization of the task, passing something completely mundane off as playful and desirable. Like Tom, find ways to bring fun and energy back to the workplace by appealing to the reasons individuals originally joined the team or profession. The work, not the financial or social recognition, becomes the reward. If you find this challenging because there are no underlying intrinsic motivators, find small ways to make the job more rewarding through competitions, games, or camaraderie.

Do more with more. When motivated employees compete and thrive at work, a culture of star performers instills more engagement, more collaboration, and more productivity. Motivated employees experience intense feelings of belonging and pleasure in their work, and they work to advance the team’s overall goals.

Your strongest defense to engagement attrition is a formidable offense of onboarding quality candidates and training star performers with programs and benchmarks. After you have the right people on the bus, ensure employees know the realities of the job and are equipped with the tools, training, and coaching necessary to build autonomy and mastery.

Embrace diversity. NASA recruits skillsets ranging from musicians, theater majors, political scientists, and biologists. People from different backgrounds and dispositions bring varied perspectives and new ways of solving old problems. They also have more diverse intrinsic motivators. The more diverse a group is, the more rewards the team will reap in cultivating that team’s intrinsic motivation.

Reward thoughtfully. Actions have consequences, but so do rewards. Bonuses, trophies, sales quotas, after-school snacks, etc. are all appropriate means of recognizing effort, and each has its place in life. Smart leaders understand that sustainable results hinge not on the incentive itself, however, but rather on the individual’s capacity and desire to excel. Leaders must consider the expectations and impressions set by any reward system. Small, random, and genuine rewards that convey appreciation are a healthy way to augment performance goals based solely on output.

Ring the bell. Start thinking about value as more than just commercial return on investment, and praise individuals who add value in a range of ways. Be liberal with feedback and praise, and never miss an opportunity to recognize a team member’s contribution. For any type of recognition or praise to be effective, it must be timely, specific, and sincere. Be honest and phrase your remarks carefully, because poorly delivered remarks can actually serve to make others feel less motivated.

Reinforce job fit, satisfaction, and purpose. People are not profit-maximizing machines. Hence, most of our major life decisions are usually prompted less by income and more by happiness, satisfaction, and fulfillment. Early attention to employee basic needs and financial motivators can prevent employees from feeling dissatisfied and underappreciated. Do not, however, rely solely on this to instill intrinsic motivation. Remember that purpose, mastery, and autonomy are more reliable supports for motivation. Reinforce job fit, satisfaction, and purpose to make employees feel secure and invigorated by their work environment.

Practice what you preach. Evaluate your own work styles and strengths. This understanding can help you to anticipate how you will react to coaching from superiors or mentors, as well as how you will influence others.

You owe it to yourself and to your team to know your own competencies and intrinsic motivators. Maintain a personal development plan that models the format and cadences of your employees to ensure that accountability transcends organizational lines and establishes credibility and trust.

In closing

Employees with high intrinsic motivation possess an innate passion for their work, embrace challenges and new experiences, remain optimistic in the face of failure, and inspire others to reach new heights. Motivation plays a critical role in not only keeping employees mentally engaged in their work, but also in feeling more productive and fulfilled in their personal lives. The evidence is clear that this is a venture worthy of your time and focus. The task now is to indoctrinate those around you in the merits of workforce motivation. By presenting it in a pragmatic and tangible way, you can help your colleagues move beyond an esoteric understanding of the concept and start practicing it at work.

Part 1 of this article was published on August 2, 2018 and can be viewed here.

Literature Cited

  1. House, R. J., “Path-Goal Theory of Leadership: Lessons, Legacy, and a Reformulated Theory,” The Leadership Quartlery, 7 (3) (Autumn 1996).
  2. Hersey, P., “The Situational Leader,” Warner Books, New York, NY (1985).
  3. Guentert, S., “Work Engagement and Autonomous Motivation of Volunteers: The Impact of Work Design and Organizational Practices,” Routledge, Abingdon, U.K. (2012).
  4. Lencioni, P., “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team,” Jossey-Bass, Hoboken, NJ (2002).

This article originally appeared in the Career Catalyst column in the July 2018 issue of CEP. Members have access online to complete issues, including a vast, searchable archive of back-issues found at