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Motivation: More Choice, Less Ego

Motivation is at the heart of business. For decades now academicians have been researching and theorizing about what inspires optimal performance and energizes the workforce. Psychologist Abraham Maslow initiated the modern movement of motivation and performance improvement outlining his famous “Hierarchy of Needs” pyramid – citing the deepest, inspirational motivations at the very top after basic physiological, safety, and social acceptance needs were me.

Motivation is Complex

Motivating a workforce is complex; it is not one-size-fits-all. It requires listening, connecting, and building relationships. We differentiate ‘intrinsic’ and ‘extrinsic’ motivation, what ignites our soul and what pays the bills; we need them both. We critique effectiveness of leaders on how well they motivate their teams, and we expect leaders to be able to articulate a compelling purpose because it’s what drives people to go the extra mile and build the better idea.

In the past, I have outlined strategies to finding purpose at work. Many of these strategies also significantly impact motivation, i.e., including people in decision making, job crafting, and cultivating courage and safety. As mentioned previously, the six elements of the M6 Workplace Wellbeing model are related and overlap. This is good news, as working on one often has positive effect on others.

Motivation is Changing

As the world changes, so does work and expectations regarding the workplace. It stands to reason that what motivates team members is changing as well. Ego-driven, top-down approaches are being re-considered as are the need to sit in an office cubicle or the requirement for a 5-day work week. What are you willing to re-consider to attract and retain the best workforce? How can you motivate people to bring their best selves to the table?

“The mother of motivation is choice” — B. Burchard, The Motivation Manual

In my research, I found that the cornerstone themes of positive motivation are freedom, autonomy, choice, and psychological safety. People want to feel included, valued, and in control of their personal destiny. It is about having the freedom to push back without negative consequences, implement appropriate boundaries, and say “no” when necessary. Afterall, as Peter Drucker points out, “There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all.” Below are some ideas that incorporate these concepts to stretch your thinking, pilot, and evolve; start with one or two; generate success and add more!

  • Diversify compensation options to ensure that what gets rewarded reflects the values of the organization. Add choice; explore creative ideas such as health care alternatives, reliable child care options, flexible work options, and contributions to charities of choice.
  • Use stretch goals to fuel inspiration and challenge people to leverage their strengths and perform at their highest potential while keeping achievement within reach. Chunk large projects into smaller goals and celebrate achievement of milestones along the way.
  • Define career plans that outline innovative pathways to growth including such practices as vertical pairing, strategic exposure, and intentional rotations. Grow ranges of skills and competencies in individuals, focusing on strategic thinking; avoid limiting cognitive entrenchment or over-specialization.[i]
  • Provide experience opportunities by sponsoring programs that take people out of their comfort zone, i.e., out of their culture. Being vulnerable expands perceptions, and builds empathy and trust. Also, encourage participation as leaders in industry associations and facilitating workshops or speaking at professional conferences.
  • Reward effort as well as results because organizations with cultures of innovation know that failure is a part of succeeding, especially when learning occurs. Drive creative ideas by recognizing noteworthy effort, learning, and resilience to get back up when a plan fails.
  • Give permission for self-care by encouraging and building in rest which results in sounder bodies, clearer thinking, and better decisions.[ii]
  • Align jobs with meaning/purpose by ensuring people know their ‘why’ that will carry them through challenging moments and help sustain the organization’s innovation when it is needed most. Understand the connection between each individual’s calling and the organization’s collective purpose with the understanding that purpose will evolve and grow as the organization does.[iii]
  • Ensure psychological safety to create an environment with higher performing teams and increased innovation.[iv]

Balancing Ego

It is hard for many leaders to set aside ego and live into the notion that they are not superior, more than, or better than other members on their team; everyone has their strengths which together make up a stronger whole. While no one is saying a leader should have zero ego, a healthy balance of humility, self-awareness, and appreciation of others is imperative to build a culture of freedom, choice, autonomy, and psychological safety.

Consider trying some of the strategies above, learn, tweak, and try again. Change sometimes starts small, and one thing leads to another; positive culture is a competitive advantage, not a passing fad.

“When asked about its importance, 83% of executives and 84% of employees rank having engaged and motivated employees as the top factor that substantially contributes to a company’s success” — Deloitte’s Cor Values and Beliefs Survey

Yet, 85% of adults worldwide are not engaged or are actively disengaged at work — Gallup’s State of the Global Workplace 2017 Report

For more on the M6 Model and my approach to coaching, take a look at my website and other blog posts about Life Coaching and Organization Development.

I would love to hear your thoughts, so feel free to contact me about coaching, and we can talk more about positive relationships and a culture of thriving! Share this post with friends you think my find this of interest!


[i] David Epstein, Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World (New York: Riverhead Books, New York, 2019, P 34) Cognitive entrenchment refers to becoming so competent at a specific skill within a specific process, that any deviation throws the expert off.

[ii] John Ratey, Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain (New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2008)

[iii] Aaron Dignan, Brave New Work (New York: Portfolio/Penguin, 2019, P 64)

[iv] Amy Edmondson, The Fearless Organization: Creating Psychological Safety in the Workplace for Learning, Innovation, and Growth (Hoboken: John Wiley & Sons, 2019, P 40)