The first key to motivating anyone is to understand WHAT motivates him or her. Too often, well-intentioned leaders attempt motivating their team with what works for them. What motivates the leader seldom motivates every individual on a team. And to complicate matters people combine motivational factors. 

In an About.com HR article, Susan M. Heathfield states:
“Employee motivation is the combination of fulfilling the employee’s needs and expectations from work and the workplace factors that enable employee motivation — or not.”

Ignoring The “Me” Motivator

Not everyone thinks like you. Learn what motivates the team, not what motivates you or what you “think” motivates them. Understanding individual motivations can be as simple as asking. Once this is determined, do everything possible to provide the motivation. In a previous position, I once told the president of the company I was more motivated by recognition and a feeling of accomplishment than by money. Rather than use this information to his advantage in motivating me, he took away my bonuses. He was primarily money motivated and expected others to be the same.

The Money Motivator

Don’t assume everyone is motivated by money. Managers are frequently surprised when added financial incentives don’t motivate employees to accomplish more. Money may limit de-motivation, but it’s often not the best incentive. In a Forbes post, Money Is Not The Best Motivator, Jon R. Katzenbach and Zia Khan explain how, “Less costly kinds of encouragement can be far more effective.”

Nothing To Motivate But Fear Itself

Motivating through fear isn’t as effective as many believe it to be. Unfortunately, motivation through fear may bring results, but if used repeatedly, it may destroy the environment that allows teammates to become self-driven, and will certainly lose effectiveness.

To quote Carter McNamara, MBA, PhD.:
“Fear is a great motivator — for a very short time. That’s why a lot of yelling from the boss won’t seem to ‘light a spark under employees’ for a very long time.”

Give Your Team Direction

Written policies and procedures, company goals, visions, missions, and ethics policies all define the organization and give employees a framework to work within. Don’t misunderstand direction with micro-managing. Many people need room to be creative and the opportunity to be entrepreneurial. Also, effectively executed individual and team goals inspire and motivate — especially if they align with individual life goals.

The Evolving Motivators

Staying informed of what motivates your team is fluid.  Goals change over time. For example, an unmarried employee’s motivation may change if they wed, and will likely change again if they have children. Keep in mind, an employee’s motivation may change at any time. It’s an ongoing process.

Promote conversations with your team about motivation, continue the conversation, listen, and make it available within your organization’s culture.