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Motivation – The Whys and Wherefores

There are numerous widely debated studies, theories and models on this topic, all with pros and cons. My aim is not to dissect them to find an “absolute”, but rather to identify the whys, wherefores and compounding benefits of regular responsive motivation versus spasmodic, knee jerk reaction based motivation.

The workplace and home / life quality have changed dramatically since many of those theories were first written. Although certainly not everywhere, the hierarchical structure has disappeared from many organizations, and more and more people are enjoying a degree of empowerment. That aside, the digital age has provided opportunities of self-motivation for many budding entrepreneurs seeking fulfilment outside of the traditional work environment. Moreand more people are setting goals in new directions.


What is that Motivates People?

  • Salary and benefits?
  • Security?
  • Good working relationships?
  • Development opportunities?
  • Promotion Opportunities?
  • Something completely random?

Interestingly, it´s a question that many of us get wrong when asked about what we think motivates others. Quite often, what we think people want is what we think they should want based on what we know about them. It´s a huge mistake to assume goals and aspirations for people without having in-depth knowledge about them

Ask yourself this question:

Do you have all the information you need to correctly assess a person´s motivational state?

Our assumptions around the needs of others and our performance and behavioural expectations of them is often disastrously low and wrong. 

There is a greater chance of people performing well if our expectations of them are high and an equally greater chance of people performing below an acceptable standard if our expectations of them are low.

One of the basic fundamentals of leadership is to strive to get the best out of your team. At either end of the spectrum there is a direct correlation between our expectations and the results they achieve. Focusing on people´s needs means that something is getting attention. Things that get attention can be improved and improvements bring results.


Those results can include:


  • Increased attendance
  • Increased performance
  • An increase in appropriate behaviour
  • Better workplace relationships
  • Increased morale throughout the organisation
  • Skill development
  • Leadership style development

The impact of Low Expectations

The negative impact and repercussions of low expectations are much wider and deeper than at first glance.

  • Loss of confidence in themselves and in you
  • The person feels undervalued
  • They may feel marginalised as they are given mundane tasks
  • They could also feel that they cannot be trusted
  • Odds are that it will lead to substandard performance
  • Attrition levels reach an all-time high

This is counterproductive to your team's and organisation's objectives. The compounding negative impact of low expectations can have dire consequences throughout an organisation.

It may not be a deliberate attempt to neglect or ignore the motivational needs of others. You may just present them with less challenging mundane tasks. By paying placing less value on people´s development and less emphasis on the importance of their performance outputs, we are in effect, giving ourselves less opportunity to evaluate, motivate and develop.

Recognising Motivational Needs

Motivation for success

One of the basic fundamentals of motivation is recognizing the needs of others under your guidance. When leaders begin to understand the needs of those who follow them, an emotional or psychological contract is formed between the two parties. Simply put, one is saying “it's okay. I've got your back.” In return, the other is saying “I will push with all I can because I know I have your support.”

Those people who know that someone has their best interests at heart and are receiving ongoing support are more likely to raise their game in terms of performance. Furthermore, the odds are seriously stacked in favour of this person reciprocating support to their leader and others around them. Our work place relationships can be enhanced by understanding the motivational need of others.

Cautionary note!

People will usually only follow those who are able to provide something of value to the relationship. If their values are consistently not met or ignored, they will opt out of the relationship and look elsewhere to have their needs fulfilled.

What Motivation Is Not

Motivation is not a stop start mechanism. It's a fluid transitional process that changes over time and situations. Using a one stop approach to motivate your entire team over prolonged periods will undoubtedly have a reducing effect over time.

I once met a manager whose favourite saying was “The flogging will continue until the morale picks up.” Forcing people to comply with your values and decisions won't help morale. Keeping people in the dark and not offering opportunities for empowerment will eventually lead to people being demoralized.

Life's Cycles

At the age of 21 my motivational needs were considerably different than they are now at the age of let's just say 21 plus tax (a considerable amount of tax). With diverse backgrounds, interests and circumstances, people's motivational needs will always vary and change with time.

Without getting into the realms of debating motivational theories, life is changing at a terrifically fast pace. The digital age has opened up a world of new possibilities and opportunities. Many people are staying in the same role in the same workplace for much shorter periods of time.

The downside is that more people than ever before are experiencing the stress of redundancy, losing their home, relationship break ups and any other number of upheavals.

Why do I mention this?

Simply because with demotivational factors hiding around every bend in life's cycles, there has never been a more important time to look beyond the quick fix motivational pat on the back and delve deeper into the reason for lack of motivation. Tackle the problem from the root and build your motivation process from there outward and upward.

For many people the notion of a step by step, ladder like process of meeting motivational needs is not the reality. The modern reality is more cyclical. How many people do you know that had moved through life from having their basicMotivation needs met, all the way through to self-fulfilment, only to lose everything that they held dear? They plummet back down the ladder again to the uncomfortable situation of trying to have their basic needs met once again.

This could be for a myriad of reasons; Income loss; ill health; loss of someone they were dependent on; Losing their home or the breakup of a relationship. The truth is that all these things affect people in different ways.

Motivation depends, in part at least, on recognising the cycles of those that are following you. If you can do that, you have a fighting chance of finding a successful motivating factor to spin the person back towards the top of their cycle.

A Few Final Thoughts

Motivation helps people find purpose and that includes the motivator. After all, having purpose is one of our most basic needs. Most people want to know where and how they fit into the overall mission or organisational objectives. It´s up to you as a leader to tap into the resources that you have available and get the best out of people.

Setting that aside, there is an indescribable feeling of pride when you have helped someone move out of a difficult situation and given them the motivational nourishment they were missing.

It´s up to you to seek out ways to motivate those around you. If there is only you, then seek out the things that motivate you to move forward with your life. Motivation doesn’t last forever. It´s a continual process.

I actively seek out my motivation on a regular basis and I have come to realise that without this motivation, my reasons and purpose are limited. With it, my dreams are turning into realities and that my friends is, what keeps me moving forward.

Motivation is an area that can't really be justified in a short article. We can discuss the theories, models and how to another time.

Thank you for reading this article.

Who is the person that has motivated you the most?

What factors are important for you in motivation?

Drop you comments in the box below



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