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Discovering motivators


Do you know what really motivates the people you work with? LSN's Jez Fernandez gives his thoughts

Some years ago, I faced a dilemma many of you will relate to. It wasn’t whether to plump for Chinese or Indian (although trust me, that’s a tough one), but rather to do with a work-related challenge.

I had a great woman in my team – long-serving, excellent attendance and a producer of very high quality work. The problem was that she was slow. And by slow, I mean that she was regularly producing around two-thirds the quantity her colleagues (all less experienced) were. So we talked. “Alice,” (not her real name) I would say, “the quality of your work is excellent, but we need to increase the number of pieces you deliver each day. Otherwise, we’re going to run into a backlog.”

Simple, right? All Alice needed to do was work a little faster, not spend as much time dotting every “i” and she’d be hitting target in no time. Except it wasn’t that simple. Alice took pride in her work. Each piece of assessment she produced, or customer communication she wrote, was a work of art in its own right. Our CRM system would be updated with meticulous and comprehensive notes. Each piece of the process was done to a t. Every letter was exceptionally well-worded and…well, thoroughly thorough. Alice would regularly talk about the need for “job satisfaction” which to her was about producing an immaculate piece of work every time.

Now I’ll openly confess that I fell into a common trap. I tried to reason with Alice and impose my own set of motivators on her. “Alice, your target is 65 pieces of a work a day. Think how satisfied you’ll be if you achieve that.” But to Alice, the only way to achieve 65 outputs a day would be to dramatically cut back on precisely that which made her work so pristine. Those extensive notes, the detailed letters, the personal communication to anyone and everyone who might possibly be involved with this customer at some point in the near or distant future.

One of Alice’s friends and colleagues once urged her, “Why don’t you just give them what they want? Do what I do – cut back on your notes, copy and paste wherever you can, keep communication to only what’s relevant and move on to your next one.” So Alice, under pressure, would achieve her 65 outputs a day for a short time but before long, she’d revert to type. To Alice, there was no satisfaction in working like this. It wasn’t her motivator. Think about the teams you manage, or the people you work with. Do you know what motivates them? Or do you assume you know what motivates them? If you want to get the most out of people, one of the first things you need to know is what motivates them. The second thing you need to do is try to align their motivators with what your business needs from them.

Professor Steven Reiss conducted a study of over 6,000 individuals and identified 16 basic desires that guide nearly all human behaviour. These include things like acceptance, social contact, power, order and independence. Essentially, everyone possesses intrinsic motivators – where we are internally motivated to do something because it brings us pleasure, or we think it’s important or that what we’re learning is significant.
Here’s something think about. Do you know what motivates the people you work with, friends, family, church members or people in your community group? If not, take the time to find out. Secondly, use that knowledge to think about how people’s motivators manifest themselves in the working environment. If you want to increase motivation in your team, don’t suppose that a bottle of wine will hit the spot. Sure, it’s a nice gesture, but will it motivate people to drive harder? Some people may be tee total and take offence at the gesture. Some may find it patronising. Some may be insulted that you feel they can be “bought” like that. Extrinsic motivators are much less effective than intrinsic motivators. It’s a little like the difference between laws and ethics – ethics is about doing the right thing, even when no one is looking.

Of course, getting the most from people won’t always mean you can satisfy their motivators. In the case of Alice, a higher level of output was required and she didn’t deliver. Notice I said didn’t, not couldn’t. Alice was motivated to produce a certain quality of work, and therefore chose not to work creatively to achieve a good balance of quality and quantity.

Motivation is a fascinating subject and one that has a phenomenal role to play in high business performance. As a final exercise, dig deep and think about what really motivates you.

Jez Fernandez, Client Manager, LSN

Connect with Jez on Linkedin

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2 Responses

  1. Motivation?

    This sounds like a dodgy story to me Jez.

    Your motivation then was to get as much ‘stuff out of the door’ in a shortest time possible to achieve a target?

    But achieving a target can be an seen as an extrinsinc motivator (and therefore quality of ‘the stuff’ could be compromised to achieve it (its implied in your article I think)? Possible rework or additional effort might then be needed to achieve the quality later on, as opposed to slow, but very good Alice, who manged the quality managed first time of asking.

    Maybe quality wasn’t an issue? Maybe your targets were wrong? 

    What would your customers prefer? 

    I’d much prefer an Alice I think!

  2. Would you prefer an Alice?

    Thanks for the reply Phil. It’s always good to stimulate thought and discussion!

    Without a doubt, Alice’s quality of work was exceptionally high. However, the reality in business is – very often – that "good is good enough". It’s interesting that you asked what the customer would prefer. The reason we required a certain level of output per day is to ensure that customer requests were processed as quickly as possible. That factor (second only to regular communication) is what our customers wanted. The level of detail Alice went into was unnecessary; by taking longer on each piece of work, a backlog ensued which meant customers had to wait longer for their problem to be resolved. In addition, Alice’s colleagues found ways to ensure that the required quality was met at double the speed. Slight mistakes were made here and there, but not to a major degree.

    The point to the story is that Alice was motivated by producing a work of art every time; by focusing on the quantitative output, I’d misjudged her motivator and was on a road to nowhere. The issue here isn’t whether quality or quantity was required. The issue is about understanding motivators. If you assume that everyone in your team is motivated by the same things, you’re unlikely to get the best out of them all.

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