How to solve your business’ motivation problem

demotivated staffYour staff are unmotivated and unfocused, deadlines and goals just aren’t doing it for them and they are getting distracted by other less important tasks. Not to mention you are getting earache from your peers and manager about the situation and so your stress levels are rising.

You may be trying to do the right things, such as avoiding micro-managing people, asking them constantly for status updates, setting false deadlines, abusing your authority and blaming people, but things are still slipping.


Regardless of your industry, motivation is a key factor in the success of your business, and thousands of articles and studies can testify to this fact. But in situations like the one described above, how do you solve your business’ motivation problem?

Rather than trying to motivate individuals using a carrot and stick approach, it’s time to think creatively and develop a motivational workplace. Daniel Pink, in his book, Drive, lists three areas that are essential to creating a motivational workplace: autonomy, mastery, and purpose. In situations where people are paid fairly, autonomy, mastery, and purpose drive us to do our best work.



Autonomy is the desire to direct our own lives. In the workplace this means giving employees autonomy over some or all aspects of their work. For example, you could switch to a Results Only Work Environment (ROWE) which focuses on the results, rather than other factors such as when they do it. You could also share the objective and provide some initial guidance for a task, but give your employees complete autonomy to work out how to achieve it.

Other suggestions include giving your employees ‘creative days’, where they can work on whatever task they like, or allow them to choose who they will work with on a project.



inspire someoneMastery is the urge to get better and better at something that matters. This means giving your employees the opportunity to develop new work-based and personal skills or knowledge. You should look for opportunities where employees can take on tasks that will allow them to develop new skills, such as secondments to other teams, job shadowing for a day, or leading a project. You can also offer them training opportunities, through mentoring or online training courses.

And finally, you should ensure that you are regularly talking to your employees about their career and personal aspirations, and providing feedback on their performance.



Purpose is the yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves. At work this means getting employees engaged in the purpose and vision of the organisation (not its profit goals). To do this, you need to effectively communicate with your employees to make sure they understand the business’ purpose, and how their individual role and the team as a whole, contribute to the business’ purpose. When you are talking to employees about the business’ or teams purpose, use words such as ‘us’ and ‘we’ which can make employees feel as if they are part of something greater.

If you can also involve your employees in developing the purpose, then you can increase engagement even further. When developing your purpose and vision, ask your employees for their feedback and insight: what are their goals, ambitions and values for the business?

Brainstorming sessions for annual or quarterly team and business objectives are also a great opportunity, not only to find new solutions to existing business issues, but also ensure that everyone will come out with a stronger sense of purpose, that will last into the months ahead.


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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