Motivation Skills

A management tool

What is motivation?

According to a management expert by the name of Rooks, motivation is defined as:

"...a technique or concept which influences the actions of an individual by integrating personal goals with the organisation's work goals."

In the 1987 book Library Management by Robert D. Stueart and Barbara B. Moran, motivation is defined as:

"...a willingness to expend energy to achieve a goal or a reward." (1)

The critical thing to remember in these quotes is that for people to be motivated, they have to want to strive for something and know they can reach it because it will satisfy some kind of want or need within themselves. As Bob Winnel, managing director of the MBA Group Pty Ltd in Canberra said to journalist Peter Clack of The Canberra Times in September 2001:

"People think it is all about making a quid, but it is all about achieving something." (2)

What do we mean by "achieving something"? Some critics have argued, "Well yes, achieving something is just another way of saying 'Let's make more money!'"

While it is true businesses must make money to survive, given the current climate we live in and how people are becoming increasingly concerned about the high profits of big businesses, understandably business people will want customers to focus on the product or service and what it can achieve for society and not so much on the money earned by the businesses.

The real truth to this matter is, whether business people are "achieving something" or "making money", the personal beliefs and goals these people value in life will often dictate their true aim in setting up a business and this will be partly reflected in the type of management style they employ within the business.

For example, if the management style is based more on a traditional "mechanistic" and hierarchical approach, there is a high probability the business people will be focussing on maximising profit. If, however, the management style is based more on a modern and "humanistic" approach, there is a high probability the business people will be focussing on "achieving something" for the good of many people.

Firstly, goals are critical to motivating people if they are to believe there is something worthwhile they can reach for and know they will get it. To make the goals even more closer to the hearts of people, the goals should be designed to help people satisfy some kind of important need, whatever that might be.

This is the secret to an effective manager. Target the needs and show how to satisfy those needs through goal-setting and you will motivate people.

How important is motivating people during the life of a manager?

Motivating people is considered the most important task a supervisor/manager can do. If there is no motivation, there is little if any work done or people learn to become nothing more than robots for an organisation.

People have to be motivated if they are to achieve anything on their own and for the good of all things in this universe.

Who should set the goals?

Motivation for improved performance or whatever goals the manager may have at a certain time is best done by allowing people to set their own goals once they know the problems they have to solve and a practical plan on how to tackle the problem in an effective way.

As Ruth J. Person wrote in her 1983 book titled The Management Process: A Selection of Readings for Librarians:

"Goal setting tends to motivate performance, and self-set goals tend to be more highly motivating than are goals set by others." (3)

This self-setting goals approach to motivating people is the basis of the Management by Objectives (MBO) program as developed by management expert Peter F. Drucker.

What motivates people?

It depends on the needs of people. People are driven to achieve because there is a need that must be satisfied. What the need is will vary from one individual to another and at different times within the same person. As Stueart and Moran said:

"What motivates individuals varies from individual to individual, and even in the same person changes over time." (4)

What are these needs of people?

Bearing in mind that needs can change over time and vary among individuals, the needs can be as basic as having enough food and water. Or it could be a "higher level" need like the feeling of belonging to a society.

A number of psychologists have attempted to study this aspect of human needs to understand what drives people. And as we shall see, the needs of people can look very complicated.

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

This is one of the most important discoveries made in psychology and management theory. Developed by a psychologist, Abraham H. Maslow, the aim is to show how people are motivated based on a hierarchy of human needs.

The five levels of needs identified by Maslow are:

  1. Self-actualisation needs

    The need to perform at maximum potential and to grow into a "balanced" person.

  2. Esteem needs

    The need for respect from others as wel as a high level of self-respect and self-esteem.

  3. Social needs

    The need to belong, to love and be loved and so on.

  4. Safety needs

    The need for stability, predictability and well-ordered situation.

  5. Physiological needs

    The need for food, water, shelter and sleep required to sustain life.

According to Maslow's theory, to understand people is essentially to understand the hierarchy of human needs. It is claimed that we all have a set of fundamental needs that have to be met first before going on to "higher level" needs. Targeting these fundamental needs wherever people may be at and help them to satisfy those needs and you will motivate them to do things.

What a manager can do to help people achieve their needs

In the Western world, it is usually the case that the individual should deal with his/her own safety and security and his basic physiological needs. The manager is suppose to help with the higher order needs. However a manager should be aware of the potential that some people could be struggling to satisfy their lower order needs (e.g. poor quality air, lack of lunchtime breaks etc). So it is important for managers to help them.

  1. Self-actualisation needs

    People at this level are already independent and socially well-adjusted people. The independence is what helps people to learn on their own and acquire whatever they need to know and of value to them when achieving the goals of the organisation. So a manager should let them be free to achieve the goals in their own way.

  2. Esteem needs

    A manager should acknowledge the contributions of other people. Show praise. It is a sign that you accept other people's skills as something worthwhile and important to the organisation.

  3. Social needs

    A manager should make everyone feel welcomed and part of the group.

  4. Safety needs

    A manager should check to make sure there are no threatening situations for any employee. A manager should also not force people to do things they are not competent with, or be "exposed" to insecure situations.

  5. Physiological needs

    A manager should provide quietness, comfortable chairs, time for lunch etc.

The aim according to Maslow's theory

The aim, according to Maslow's theory, is for people to progress and achieve the state of self-actualisation. It is at this point in people's lives that managers no longer need to supervise these people or tell them what to do. They become what are known as self-managed people.

So how does a manager know what people need if he/she wants to motivate them to do something?

Unless managers talk to people to see where they are at and what they hope to achieve in life and hopefully the organisation has similar enough goals to help them achieve what they need, there is usually not a great deal managers can do other than to choose employees who can align their personal goals with the organisation's goals and then pay them a reasonable amount of money everytime they reach the goals so they may go away and purchase what they need.

Fortunately, given how many needs can be satisfied in Western society with a bit of money, this is usually not a major problem. However, managers should be aware that some employees may have learnt that money is not everything (except to meet survival needs). Perhaps being happy in their job and enjoying what they do could be a much greater priority. Because of this, motivating people through money alone should not be seen as the only way to motivate people.

What a manager can do to motivate people

The number one rule is never believe money will always motivate people. And rule number two is never force people to be motivated. It simply doesn't work that way. You can only motivate people:

  1. By understanding what they are trying to achieve; and
  2. Getting people to motivate themselves.

But I can't get my employees to be self-motivated. What can I do in this situation?

If the work is interesting and people are able to get a reward or reach a goal in return for something to help them satisfy a need, there should not be a problem.

If people are not motivated to work and to achieve the goals of the organisation, you must look at the people and what they are going through, understand the type of work being performed, and improve the environment to make it more conducive for people to be self-motivated.

For instance, to influence others to be motivated, make the goals of the organisation clear and show how they relate to their own goals in life. Then use other environmental influences such as showing your organising nature and enthusiasm and make the work people do more interesting.

Once people see this, they will over time be "influenced" by this and eventually find it contagious enough to join in and soon they will decide how things should be done in a more effective and efficient way. (5)

Or give some people a little extra responsibilities and let them achieve them. Give them variety in their responsibilities (i.e. jobs) if they want it. Or instead let them create variety and interest in the particular work they are doing.

Let people know you are concerned about them. Listen to them. Ask for problems people may have. Then find a way to solve them, or better still provide education and training to people so they can work out how to solve a problem for themselves. And, most importantly, give regular praise.

All these things will help to motivate people.

What are the best motivated people in the world?

Those individuals who can align their hobbies with their work are the best motivated types. Why? You will be tapping onto his/her emotions and creativity just as much as his/her rational and in depth knowledge of his/her favourite field.

People who can turn their work into a hobby or turn their hobby into work are more likely to focus on the job, be productive, and enjoy it more than if someone "has to do it" irrespective of how much training and experience the person may have. And there is also less likelihood of the person demanding high amounts of money from the organisation for the work done because he/she is happy doing the work.

Ask anyone else to do the work because they have to and the manager is likely to find a wide range of personal factors affect motivation and so making it difficult to choose the right one to help the person be motivated. But if people choose to work because it is also their hobby and they enjoy it, there is little if any mysterious factor to be "found" by the manager just to get them motivated.

If you want to motivate people who feel they are just doing a job, start looking more deeply at what motivates people. And then start tapping onto those simpler and fundamental needs of people and they will be more motivated to work.

Do motivated employees work better?

Management experts say this is untrue because the corollary of this is that poor motivation results in poor work, which is clearly not true because of the argument that there could be a lack of skills and training in some employees.

But motivation can help employees work better (if they have the skills already there!)

Is motivation of an employee the result of outside influences such as the manager?

This is considered a myth by some management experts because motivation is thought to be self-directed and totally controlled by the individual. Yet this goes partially against conventional wisdom in that the environment can influence people's learning (e.g. the use of a model).

This is the old, "You are responsible for who you are" approach to life as if the environment does not have any impact whatsoever on people's lives. If that is true, then why do we change our environment to such an extent to suit the way we want to live? It is like the old "chicken-and-the-egg" situation. People are trying to prove the egg came first. Yet it is possible to argue the chicken could have come first. In truth, it is not about proving who is really responsible for motivation, but rather making sure everyone find ways to motivate themselves or to at least show lots of examples of motivated people as this will influence others to do the same because it is both the individual and the environment that affects the way we do things.

Can all employees be motivated?

Most management experts will say "No." because of the view that employees must choose to change themselves. Actually all employees can be motivated given enough help from the rest of the environment so long as there are numerous and consistent examples of good motivated behaviour to be seen.

However, for a manager on his/her own to do the task of motivating someone else in an immediate sense without the interest of that person is irrational. There are too many factors affecting a person's motivation especially if the person feels "he has to be there" when working just so he/she can get what he/she really needs or wants. You need time to understand what motivates people.

A manager should talk to people and look around at the environment to see whether people can be better motivated.

Things supervisors/managers should do to help employees be motivated?

  1. A manager should allocate appropriate tasks to an employee who needs to develop skills. But the employee has to be willing to learn those skills, and the tasks must support the employee's aims (or goal-settings). Only then will you be tapping onto his/her motivations.
  2. A manager should help an employee achieve their goals and rewards. This is best done by praise. We could do more in the way of public-recognition of people's work, especially with respect to long-term contribution to our society and the organisation. But this requires people to be in group situations to get that recognition. So get people to participate in various group activities and make it enjoyable.
  3. A good manager should try to be a mentor for his/her employees, especially if they are new to the place.
  4. A manager should be enthusiastic about his/her work and in understanding and helping other people to enjoy theirs. Listen for anxieties, suggestions and questions. Reflect on what others are saying by paraphrasing. This is important in the listening process. It shows you are "paying-attention".
  5. A manager should walk around to see how people are doing. It's even better during the morning and afternoon tea breaks. Or provide other mechanisms to allow employees to make suggestions and express anything they like to management.
  6. A manager should develop team spirit by knowing how to do all the work of everyone in the organisation and showing how easy it is to do. Encouragement other people to help one another in their work.
  7. A manager should have the occasional formal meetings to talk about certain issues. Perhaps the manager could have a golf-day where the morning session is used to discuss all the issues about the organisation and how people are feeling about their work. Then spend the afternoon playing golf or doing something different and in a fun way. A good way to end the day!
  8. A manager should not be focussing just on the work to be done, but making sure everyone is happy doing the work.


  1. Consider the needs of the individual.
  2. Match the individual's skills with his/her job.
  3. Provide opportunities to grow and develop over time.
  4. Communicate the expected work to be done and the standard required.
  5. Give a variety of different motivators (i.e. rewards).
  6. Relate the rewards with performance.
  7. Treat everyone the same way.
  8. Make the environment safe and enjoyable to work in.
  9. Display appropriate role-models in order to create appropriate behaviour.