What Is Motivation?

discover what is motivation and how to achieve it

When people ask "What is motivation?" there is no clear cut answer. I define it as "a move to action", but there are a lot of variables that come into play. As individuals, we are all motivated in different ways. 

In the workplace, some employees like repeating the same tasks and don't like too much change. Others need variety to stay motivated. So tune in to what makes your employees happy at work. Often what they do for hobbies is a good indicator of what keeps them motivated.

As a manager, there are actions you can take which will increase the odds of you having a motivated, performing workforce. It helps to understand what is motivation and how you can motivate not just on an individual basis, but also at a team level.

Extrinsic Motivation

This involves external factors such as working conditions, pay and benefits, career paths and training and development opportunities in the business.

Take a helicopter view and imagine what it feels like to be an employee in your business. Do you feel respected? valued? Do you speak with pride about your job?

As a manager, make sure your HR policies and procedures make this possible. Offer a good working environment - even down to fixing that broken chair. Reward high performance - and that does not have to mean a pay rise. Give recognition for a job well done, even better if it is done in front of others. On the other hand, always give feedback on poor performance in a confidential setting.

You could consider supporting employees financially when they make the effort to learn outside of work. 

An educational assistance policy makes employees feel you care, and it could help them stay with you rather than taking a job elsewhere.

This could mean paying back exam fees on successful completion of a course, or providing paid study leave. It is good practice to upskill employees not just for promotion, but also for lateral moves. This helps avoid the "silo effect" where people grow roots in one area of the business and miss out on joined-up thinking. For example, have people in a quality role work in a manufacturing role, and vice versa - this will help to build relationships and better results.

Intrinsic Motivation

This comes from enjoyment of the job itself. Your employees may enjoy the challenge of what they do, the variety of work, the esteem that the job brings and the relationships with internal or external customers.

To improve intrinsic motivation, take a closer look at the job design. Does it make sense? In one assembly plant I worked in, we found that motivation increased when we trained operators in tasks that were linked in a logical work sequence.

Does the job use the employee's innate talents? Does the employee have the skills and knowledge necessary to feel confident in the job? Could they take on more responsibility, or do they need more support? Take the time to step back and analyse the job in conjunction with your employee, to see if actions can be taken to improve intrinsic motivation. All employees should get the opportunity to discuss the bigger picture of their job with their supervisor individually, even on an informal basis.

Team Motivation

team motivation definition and action steps

When looking at what is motivation, the role of a Team Leader has proved critical in building strong team motivation. Here are some of the positive actions a Team Leader can take:

  • Build and communicate a team vision and way of working.
  • Involve team members in setting goals within the overall team objective.
  • Be aware of and utilise the different strengths of team members.
  • Know when to direct and when to involve the team in decision making.
  • Provide constant positive feedback, encouragement and support, both on an individual and team basis.
  • Take action even if it is unpopular, for the good of the business.

It stands to reason that employees are likely to be more motivated to work in teams when they are rewarded for their team rather than individual effort.

Highly performing teams are aware of how interdependant they are on each other and often resist an individual reward system. Team input and agreement is important in deciding on rewards. For example, an Employee of the Month Award is only likely to be viewed favourably when this is decided by all the team members.

When thinking about what is motivation, consider what moves to action you need to grow your business, and how you can make these happen in a positive way at work.


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