How to Motivate Your Team in Two Easy Steps

MotivationOne of the most challenging issues for supervisors and managers is how to motivate their team. 

The challenge isn’t due to the lack of options. A quick Google search of “motivational techniques” reveals over 15 million results. Most supervisors have, in fact, tried the “usual” techniques: cash incentives, employee recognition, inspirational posters, casual Friday’s – even coercion and threats, when all else fails.

I once had a manager give me warm can of Mountain Dew at a team meeting for having a “can do” attitude.

A can of Mountain Dew. Seriously.

I’ve since discovered a simple two-step process that I’ve found to be highly effective in terms of motivating both my fellow team members and subordinates. Not easy, but simple.

Step 1: Explain how the Desired Outcome Benefits the Motivatee

Clear enough premise, right? Many supervisors underestimate what it takes to do this effectively though.

Let’s “flip the script” here. Imagine you’re an Intake Specialist, and your supervisor says, “We are all going to get much faster computers next week. You’ll now be able to process 20% more accounts in a day!”

So, now you’re expected to do more work in the same time. It’s your supervisor’s job to inspire you to meet this new production goal.

On the surface, it appears that the desired outcome is a one-sided benefit. Your supervisor increases his output, but at the benefit of your additional effort.

Wouldn’t it be more effective if your supervisor could explain to you how these faster computers would benefit you both?

This might take a little creativity. In order to do this, your supervisor would have to know:

  • What your professional and your personal values are?
  • What challenges you?
  • What problems or issues will the increase of production lessen or remove?

Knowing these answers is the secret to the success of the first step. As we discuss in our Influencing Without Authority workshop – the ability to influence and motivate is directly proportional to the strength of the relationship. In order to answer the above questions, your supervisor would have to have a relationship with you.

Conversely – you’ll have to have some type of relationship with the person or persons that you want to motivate.

Step 2:  Create a Safe Path

Very often, supervisors forget that most people want to do well or good. They mistakenly believe that people choose “not to do good” when there is a disconnect from the desired outcome and the actual result.

In all likelihood, the gap between the desired and actual outcome is the result of some type of barrier. In many cases the barrier may be a perception – the work may be perceived as too hard, not fair, or demeaning. Peer pressure may come into play – no one wants to be seen as a “suck up” or a “quota buster”. Other times the barrier is something more tangible, such as a lack of skills or training.

Hence, when these barriers are removed, or minimized as much as possible, the “safe path” emerges – and motivation becomes much easier.

It really is that simple – not easy, it takes a lot of effort and practice on your end – but simple.

Step One – Explain why the desired outcome is a good thing and how it benefits them.

Step Two – Clear away the barriers to success and create the “safe path”.

Motivation problem solved.

Keep these steps in mind the next time you need to motivate someone or a group of individuals. What can you do to accomplish these two steps?

Answer that question, and you’ll be on your way to being an effective motivator!


Harlan Kilmon, PMP is a Senior Facilitator with Learn iT! He has extensive experience in business, project management, and training and curriculum development as a Director of Operations and a Management Consultant.