Personalizing Motivation

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Personalizing Motivation – Finding The Unique Elements That Drive Your Team

As we continue to face significant levels of uncertainty and change, many leaders are asking, “how do I keep my team motivated?”

This isn’t a new issue arising from COVID—understanding how to increase motivation has been on the minds of leaders for decades—but remote work combined with the stress levels that COVID has created are compounding factors. Leaders can see where employees are spending their time based on their output, but the bigger question of motivation and work satisfaction can be elusive.

Motivation … beyond team engagement

Motivation is more than understanding the employee “engagement” levels of your team, which is typically measured through annual surveys (and often with uninspiring results). In his book Drive, research from author Dan Pink defines motivation as derived from three factors: autonomy, mastery, and purpose, all of which need to be present for work to be motivating and satisfying.

Motivation drives the level of energy we bring to our work—the more we’re enjoying our work and deriving personal satisfaction from it, the more energy and enthusiasm we bring to it. This becomes an element of the engagement conversation that is often missed—what drives energy for each person? And in times of stress or change, it can also act as an energy reserve.

Motivation isn’t one-size-fits-all

One mistake leaders can make is believing that they can introduce one or two changes for their team—such as increased team input into decisions or offering leadership coaching — and that they now have an “engagement strategy.”

Instead, engagement and motivation are very personal. James Sale’s Motivation Maps research points to nine types of motivation, including interest in being “The Star” (and seeking recognition), or being “The Expert” (and seeking mastery of their skills or craft). One person’s interest in maximizing the freedom and flexibility of their work (“The Spirit”) may be in conflict with another person’s interest in predictability and security (“The Defender”). All of these motivating factors may co-exist in one team. Mapping each of your team members to one of the nine motivation types can be a huge step forward in understanding their motivational needs.

Before going any further, you’ll also need to make sure that the universal human elements (things like sufficient pay, equity, job fit, etc.) are met. It will be difficult to address motivational issues if there are pay or diversity issues within your team.

If you’re unclear about what motivates the individuals on your teams, there are ways to make this “invisible” factor more visible to you, so you’re able to take steps that provide new opportunities for increases to personal satisfaction for your team members. (Axiom is happy to help you with this “mapping.”)

Tap into “high points”

I encourage leaders to use a motivational interview process, which I have modified from the work of Dr. Marie-Hélène Budworth. To witness what lights up a member of your team, ask them to think about their highlight or “peak” moments from the past year, and work with them to help create situations that will generate more of those highlights in the months ahead.

If you want to tap into individual motivational energies, there are three simple steps with questions you can ask:

  1. Reflect on the wins: “Looking back over the past year, what were the things you enjoyed doing the most? What stories come to mind of the work and situations that were most exciting to you?”
  2. Ask for more detail: “Let’s choose a couple of those examples. Take me to the best parts. What specifically was exciting about it? Who were you working with? What did you achieve?” Listen intently for underly motivators—for example, is it collaboration, being an expert, making a difference, etc. that is creating this high point for them? According to Sale, it could be one or several of nine underlying motivators.
  3. Identify opportunities ahead: After identifying up to three underlying motivators, ask “Where, with your current goals, can you replicate those conditions and have similar “high points” this year? What do you need from me to make that happen?”

Once you know more of what motivates the individuals on your teams, you can work with each person to weave those factors into their work for the coming months. By understanding and unlocking the individual motivation for each of your team members, you’ll create highly personalized and effective engagement plans.


Axiom partners with senior leadership teams to find their unique path to maximize performance.