5 Steps to Fix Your People's Motivation Problem (Hint: You're the Problem)!

His face was beaten to a pulp. His pasty white skin had the look of an apple ready to be picked - shiny, ripe and almost red... Blood tends to have that effect. His ribs were cracked, his knuckles fractured. He was in an intense pain.

The concrete floor was cold; it rumbled under the shouting of men - too many to count, but too few to get lost. Someone helped him up, he slipped on a cocktail of blood and sweat only to be caught by someone else. He looked across the room and grinned, "Again next week?" He was consumed by the roar of the crowd.

He was happy. He belonged. He was part of something. For the first time in his life, he knew he could do whatever he wanted - BE whatever he wanted. He couldn't wait for what was next. As he put his shirt back on, he made a pathetic attempt to make the blood stop. Then, it happened - his favorite part. The Leader - his Leader - stepped into the middle of the room. 

The raucous gathering was reduced to a church-like silence, leaning in, urging the thick, humid air to loosen it's grip on the moment... The Leader was known for his charisma and his zealot-like passion. As he circled the room, his eyes darted from one person to the next, bringing each one of them in even further, making every person feel as if he was the only one in the room. At long last the Leader, with the command of a general and the attitude of a rebel, spoke - 

"The first rule of Fight Club is... You do not talk about Fight Club."


Have you ever felt that - the feeling of true motivation?!? Feeling like you can do it - whatever the task - and never tire of it?

I'm not talking about the "if I don't do this I'll get fired" or the "I'm just doing this so I can pay the bills" kind of motivation. I'm talking about the "I would run through a brick wall because I want to" kind of motivation. The incredible mixture of purpose, autonomy and empowerment to use your passion and skill within a community working towards something meaningful!

Now, most of you are confused. You don't understand how Tyler Durden was able to motivate a large group of men from disparate backgrounds without paying them a dime? Oh, that's right - you're thinking - this is fiction! Now you're relieved, "Chuck wrote a great book; Brad was great in the movie, but it's completely out of touch - he doesn't understand what it's like to manage people in the real world..."

Yes, I agree that it is an outstanding book and an incredibly entertaining movie, but I disagree with thinking he's out of touch. Quite the contrary. I think he nailed it...

Let's talk about a book you won't ignore. Drive - in my humble opinion - is the best book for understanding the principles of motivation. Author Daniel Pink - yes, NYT & WSJ Best Selling Author Daniel Pink - provides incredible insight into what drives us as humans. SPOILER ALERT - we’re not driven by a damn paycheck. The crazy part, Pink has a method to his findings, it’s called #science.

      Autonomy - “The desire to direct our own lives…” 

  We want to feel like we have control over our lives; like we have some semblance of the direction of our destiny. When you lord over your people - micro-managing them from the moment they get in at 8am (because working from 10am-7pm would be COMPLETELY UNACCEPTABLE!) until they power down their machine "when you say they can leave" - they are not only de-motivated, they aren't expanding their skills and aren't actually engaging brain! It doesn't take a MBA to know that isn't the way to build and develop high-performing teams!

      Mastery - “The urge to get better and better at something that matters…"

  We are extremely motivated by improvement. Why do you quit the gym after two weeks? You don't see results! You can't see the improvement and you don't feel like you're getting better (all you know is that you're sore ALL THE TIME!). Pursuing and achieving Mastery is incredibly motivating as it doesn't happen overnight - Pink eludes to "Mastery is a Pain". "Mastery" takes us 10 years to achieve! That's why that person on your team wants to "just stay a techie geek" - he wants to master it. Let him and he will always work longer and harder than anyone else... Why? Because he wants to.

      Purpose - “The yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves…"

  Simon Sinek helped us all understand the importance of Starting with Why. "People don't buy what you do, they buy why you do it!" This is the essence of motivating a macro team. Can you connect to the "greater good" that is relevant to the team? No, "it's good for the company" is not a statement that works and it DEFINITELY isn't the "greater good"! I always get asked about this... "We don't work in non-profit, we're a [insert any company that isn't Tom's Shoes]!" I get it, it's hard, but you can connect your people to a purpose that will motivate. You simply need to take the time to do it (more on that in a moment). 

With all due respect to Mr. Pink, I think there is an additional motivator. One that drives the behavior of individuals from sports teams to teens on the streets. I call it community.

      Community - The longing to belong to a group of people that loves us more than we do ourselves

  Yes, I understand that this links very closely with Pink's Purpose, but I think this is different - and important to call out. We crave community, we are wired that way (for more on this, Google "the psychology of community"). We want to be part of a team/group/gang/gaggle that accepts us, one that we feel like we contribute to and, most importantly, matter! Throughout history, we've formed groups for survival, for healing, for growth and to entertain the masses (thank you, N*SYNC). If you can make your people feel less like a collection of disparate people and more like a community - you will see results you only dreamed of (again, more on this in a moment). 

If you are still stuck in your “I’m gonna carry around my hammer and beat people into doing what I want!” way of thinking, let me be clear - you will never have loyalty OR high performance. Nope. Never. Carrots and Sticks don’t work when it matters! NOTE: Pink goes into great detail on this point in his book. Check it out!

Remember that cheesy poster that hung in your elementary school, Character is what you do when no one's watching! - it was normally in some neon color and had a cartoon on it? That is a great way to think about leadership... Leadership is manifested by what your people do when you aren't watching! Carrots and Sticks will not drive lasting behavior change - or motivation - they will simply "inspire” (that was meant to be DRIPPING with sarcasm, if you didn’t pick it up) action when you're standing over them with the hammer. 

What You Can Start Doing Now - 5 Steps to Tranforming Your De-Motivated Individuals into a Motivated Team

Ok, so you’re convinced. Everything you’ve been doing to motivate is wrong. You’ve eaten your carrots and thrown you stick in the woods. Great! What do you do now? Here is where you start down the path towards driving your team to new heights and high performance: 

1.    Stop Thinking Your People "Just Aren't Motivated"

◦  They aren't motivated because you aren't motivating them! You're right, there are a range of people on your team - some have an incredible amount of intrinsic motivation and some have less than zero. However, you can motivate them! Stop blaming them and start looking at yourself. FLIP your paradigm and think of your people as individuals that are capable of great things - extraordinary things if they work together (hint - your job is to get them there!). This is a very simple first step, but changing your attitude is never easy.

2.    Take Time to Develop Your Team's Purpose Statement

◦  Let's get very tactical for a moment. In order to develop your team's Purpose Statement you need to:

1.       Schedule the time to do it

2.      Shut the door, close Outlook, turn off your phone and FOCUS (more on dealing with distractions in a later blog post!)

3.    Write down (on a piece of paper with a pen - too many distractions on your iPad or PC) - in detail - why your team or organization exists; what the goal is; why the goal is important; what happens if you don't reach your goal; who is counting on you to reach your goal/do your job. As you start this line of thinking, your mind will go in multiple directions - do everything you can to capture these thoughts!

4.    Analyze your "findings" and pull together a core statement of who you are and why you exist. NOTE: this doesn't need to be incredibly eloquent and can absolutely evolve. The important point is that you are showing your team that you care enough to take the time to think about it's purpose!

5.    Once you have a draft Purpose Statement, you should discuss it with your people! And, not coincidentally, that's the next step in the process...

3.      Host 1-on-1 Conversations with Your People

  First of all, if you aren't having regular 1-on-1 Meetings with your people, shame on you. (You should be.) In this particular 60 minute, one-on-one conversation, you should have two goals:

1.      Sharing the Purpose Statement and getting your team member's feedback. Your words and tone matter here... Ensure they understand this is a draft, not a finished product. In order for it to be complete, each team member needs to give input and "sign-off" - however informally. 

2.    Find out what motivates them! This is really complicated. You just, well, ask them, "What motivates you?!" Crazy, I know. You want to know what gets them out of bed in the morning. What is his/her WHY? One word answers are not allowed here. Ask probing questions like, "Tell me more about that" and "When did you realize that was a motivator?". These questions will give you insight into tasks that an individual wants to Master...! Finally, HOW DO YOU MOTIVATE SOMEONE IF YOU DON'T KNOW WHAT MOTIVATES THEM!?

  There are many awesome outcomes from this meeting - you won't even know the full impact until much later. Trust me, this is worth EVERY MOMENT of time you invest in it. 

4.      Provide Relevant, Meaningful Metrics

  Now, you have a statement that is meaningful to everyone on your team and you have an idea of what motivates your people. This, coupled with the corporate objectives of your team, creates measures that actually add value and provide status on how your team is doing. 

◦  This is another great opportunity to sit with your team and discuss what measures actually capture the activities that really matter - and add value. This can be as simple as you want! Here are some sample metrics I've seen teams create in the past (above and beyond the quantitative measures pushed down by management):

1.      Number of "High Five" Moments in a Day

2.      Keep the Number of Meetings Greater than One Hour to 3 in a Week

3.      Actually Host - and Have People Attend - Our Monthly Team Happy Hour

  Managers always get so hung up on metrics - they don't have to sound like they are straight out of an HBR issue. Be creative and, most importantly, get the input of your people!

5.      Stay Out of the Way!

  You read that right. Stop thinking that EVERYTHING must run through you. There is a TON of content about not micro-managing... I won't beat that point up here. If you've followed the steps above, you have a team that has a unified purpose and actually knows what it is, you know what excites and motivates your team, as individuals and as a whole, and you have measures that are relevant and track things that people actually care about! Now, your job is to remove roadblocks and make your people successful (not be the hero that does everything!). 

You don't have to be Tyler Durden to motivate - you just need to stop doing what you're doing.