Mind Your Business: The Art of Employee Motivation

motivational speakerVolumes upon volumes have been written about what motivates employees at work. The scientific research alone would probably fill several Amazon warehouses, not to mention all the online articles. Companies across the globe spend billions on employee motivation schemes, and there is a new emerging trend: bringing in a motivational speaker, in order to motivate their staff to bigger and brighter things.

And yet still many businesses struggle to motivate their employees. When it comes to the motivational speakers, many employees walk away from the presentation either completely unmoved or unchanged. In fact, at one such presentation I’d been invited to attend recently, I overhead a group of co-workers muttering about what a waste of time it was, and they had far too much on their to do list to be attending ‘corporate rubbish’ like this.


Does that mean that the motivational speech is dead and buried?

I don’t think so; I think it depends on what the company is trying to achieve, and what the employees are expecting from it.

The motivational speech can inject an invigorating change of pace, or give workers an entertaining boost. Unfortunately, the problems with motivational speeches arrive when the business believes that this one-off injection of motivation is enough to keep everyone going for a year.

“Real motivation is much more than antics on a lecture platform, more than bellowing into a microphone”

writes Saul Gellerman, a business management professor and internationally recognised motivation expert, in his book, Motivation in the Real World.

“Real motivation is the serious, never-ending task of creating conditions to which the natural response of ordinary people is to accomplish extraordinary things. Motivating people is extremely hard work that takes thought, attention to detail, know-how and, perhaps above all, flexibility to individual differences.”

It’s a comment that resonates with me, and it’s why I believe motivational speeches on their own don’t work. A motivational speech is, by its very nature, a one off; to get the most out of it companies need to empower their managers to continue to motivate their employees long after it is over.


We know that more often than not employees leave managers, not companies. But managers can get the rough end of this. Moving from ‘doing the job’ to ‘leading others to do the job’ is a big step, and many people are promoted into a managerial role without being given the necessary support and knowledge about how to manage and motivate a team.

So here are three ways a business can help support a new manager:

  1. Have a soft skills development programme that managers, especially new managers, can attend to learn skills such as how to manage or how to communicate better with employees.
  2. staff trainingGive each new manager a mentor, someone who has been recognised within the business as a good manager. Mentoring schemes provide invaluable support, and can help troubleshoot minor problems before they become big issues.
  3. Give them time and the resources to manage properly: explain how their role, and their team’s role, helps deliver the company strategy; provide them with contacts in relevant departments to help them do their job; and give them access to learning materials and resources.


And here are three ways a manager can motivate their employees:

  1. One employee’s motivation is another’s demotivation. We are all individuals, so talk to your team and find out what motivates them individually.
  2. Link rewards and recognition to your team goals and business objectives.
  3. Give your employees choice and challenge. Give them tasks that are just beyond their level so they can improve their skills and knowledge. However, don’t give them work that is too difficult as it can cause anxiety and demotivation.

And if you do decide to engage a motivational speaker for your next employee event, make sure you give your managers the ability and skills necessary to make motivation an everyday, on-going part of their role.


John Sylvester

John is responsible for the motivation division of p&mm ltd and a Director on the board of the IPM. Specialising in developing, implementing and directing many large scale staff motivation, recognition and employee communications programmes.
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