Motivating teams and individuals: How to be a Better Communicator part II

Keys in hand

To unlock successful engagement, find out what motivates people.

Picture the scene: A senior leader takes to the stage to deliver his keynote speech as a half-hearted round of ‘applauds’ echoes pathetically around the auditorium. As the intermittent claps subside, the delegate next to me leans over and whispers: “I’ll gladly follow this leader, but only out of a sense of morbid curiosity.”

The next 53 minutes (though it felt longer) provided ample fuel for my neighbour’s cynicism. As his leader’s call to action petered out, he slumped down in his chair and gave me look as if to say I told you so.

Reflecting on this experience, I felt inspired to fire this business leader with enthusiasm or, in terms of motivational abilities, fire him with enthusiasm!

With that in mind, the focus of this post – the first in a series we’re calling ‘How to be a Better Communicator’ – is the topic of motivating the people around you so they are inspired to follow the direction you set.

After all, it doesn’t matter how well crafted your messages are, how logical your approach, or how urgent the need for action is; if you can’t motivate the people around you, you are going to struggle to move the needle in engaging your people. A leader without followers is a contradiction in terms.

This is personal

The first trap to avoid is assuming that what motivates you will also motivate others. In fact, motivation is highly personal; what gets you out of bed in the morning and racing for the car-keys is unlikely to be the same thing that gets your colleagues’ motors running. Just because you are motivated by new challenges doesn’t mean your colleagues are. They might cherish security.

The trick is to get to know your colleagues and to understand the precise combination of factors that unlocks the contribution they can make – and then target your messages to match these factors. A bit like the right combination can crack open a safe. Failure to do this often causes miscommunication and missed opportunities.

You may not be able to change the key messages for your organisation, but you can position them carefully, turning the ‘volume’ up and down on specific points to match the motivational needs of the audience. For example, using the scenario from above: “This is an exciting new challenge [key message] – and the good news is that we’ll continue to need people like you, with your skills and experience, to help us deliver it [audience-specific ‘security’ message].”

Motivation changes

A second pitfall is thinking that the things that motivate people remain the same over time. They don’t. Just because you genuinely knew Jo when she first joined the business, perhaps having recruited her, that was five years back and a lot can change in five years, including what motivates her. The ‘combination’ of motivators changes over time – based on all sorts of factors, economic, personal, hierarchical and so on.

So how can you determine what motivates a colleague? Well, since true motivation has to come from within, it might be wise simply to ask! Then you learn what engages that individual – and what doesn’t. That way you can target your communication and know where you should – and shouldn’t – be focusing your energy.

You can identify patterns of motivation

Repeat this trick with the entire team and you can determine patterns of motivation. In my experience, patterns do emerge – by team, function, job type, even location.

But best not to guess. Do your research. To help with that and at least get a conversation started, we use a very simple questionnaire (that I’m happy to share if you send me an email).

When we have used the questionnaire, we often find three factors coming near the top of the list of what most people say gets them motivated: a clear direction, achieving a goal and being listened to.

In our How to be a Better Communicator workshop, we use the questionnaire output to create a matrix, with all the things that might motivate people in column one and the frequency with which they are cited as top motivators in the remaining columns. The graph that emerges gives you a pictorial representation of the motivators for that group. Patterns always emerge, which you can use to shape your approach to motivation.

A more comprehensive look at the factors involved in motivation can be found in the work of Herzberg. Simply put, he identified that the very same things that motivate one person cause others to complain. Even so, he found that some factors are, on balance, more likely to cause people to complain than be motivated – for example, company policy and administration, work conditions, even salary. Equally, his research highlighted factors that, although they attract some complaints, are on balance more likely to motivate people. These include achievement, recognition and the work itself.

And here comes the next ‘watch out’!

Don’t get too hung up on the niggles

Be careful not to spend all your time dealing with the things people complain about. They will soon find something else to complain about – and still won’t be motivated despite all your efforts. Assuming that their complaint is not a matter of life and death (although if it is, then deal with it!), you’d be better off focusing your energy instead on the things that might actually motivate them, like recognising them for a job well done and showing that you care.

In summary

So if you want to be a better communicator, think about how to motivate the people around you. Well, at least if you can be bothered!

We all know it can be lonely at the top. As Franklin D Roosevelt put it: “It’s a terrible thing to look over your shoulder when you are trying to lead – and find there is no-one there.”

Fail to motivate those around you and it might just get even lonelier.

We’ve also written a handbook that provides a wealth of tips and techniques. How to be a Better Communicator is not for sale in bookshops. Instead, you buy copies direct from us and present them to your leaders and managers so they can sharpen their communication skills and engage their teams better than ever before.

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