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Main Content

Strengthening Your Motivational Ability

When you're good at motivating others, you understand how to relate to others in ways that inspire them to do their best work.

For example, you're working with a team on a major course project or an important cross-functional initiative for your company. Frank, one of your teammates, seems unenthusiastic about the work and has fallen behind schedule on his part of the project, which involves gathering and analyzing extensive amounts of data.

You've known Frank for a while, and you suspect that he enjoys work that offers a lot of intellectual stimulation. For instance, when you asked him last Monday morning how his weekend went, he said he had had a great time fixing a problem in a new software program he had installed on his home computer. You suggest that Frank trade his data-gathering responsibility for a more stimulating task currently being handled by Sally, who you know enjoys work involving analyzing data. Sally agrees to the trade. Soon Frank's interest perks up and he's carrying out his new project responsibilities with enthusiasm and skill.

When you strengthen your ability to motivate, you generate valuable results. You inspire the people around you to give their best on the job -- which leads to greater pride and satisfaction for them as well as higher performance for your organization.

How to enhance this ability? The following practices can help:

  • Read a book on employee motivation. Potential useful titles include Discovering Your Career in Business by Timothy Butler and James Waldroop, 1001 Ways to Reward Employees by Bob Nelson, and Streetwise Motivating and Rewarding Employees by Alexander Hiam.

  • Read articles on the subject. Examples include "Job Sculpting: The Art of Retaining Your Best People" by Timothy Butler and James Waldroop, which explains how to shape job responsibilities so that they match people's deepest interests.

  • Take an online learning course on the subject. Examples include the "Influencing and Motivating Others" module in the Harvard ManageMentor series, developed by Harvard Business School Publishing, as well as the "Motivating Employees" course offered by Online Training Directory. Your company may have purchased a site license for such courses. Or, you may be able to buy a CD containing courses of interest as well as participate in them online or download them from the developer for a fee.

  • Consult an expert. Find someone who you view as a particularly good at motivating others. Ask this person how he or she has strengthened this skill.

  • Attend a workshop or course in the subject. Your company may offer such learning opportunities or may be willing to reimburse your tuition if you take such a course through another organization. Local university extension programs, as well as continuing education programs, may offer such workshops and courses.

  • Get to know the people on your team. Spend time with them, noticing what situations make them most enthusiastic or excited, how they like to work, and what seem to be their top work-related interests. Listen carefully to them, seeking clues to what most inspires them to excel on the job.

  • Design work so it enables people to express their deepest interests. For example, if one of your employees is a salesperson with an interest in quantitative analysis, giving her new duties working with market-research analysts may revive her desire to excel at work.

  • Reward people based on what they find most motivating at work – not what you find most motivating. It's easy to assume that other people want the same things from their work that you want from yours. But different people have very different reward values. Through observation and active listening, identify your team members' reward values  without being influenced by your own.

Strengthening your ability to motivate others takes practice. But the better you are at this ability, the more you bring out the best in others – and the more you generate valuable results for your organization.