With all the studies, articles, tips, and training telling you how to motivate your employees, why would I tell you to stop trying to do just that? Well, what is motivation? Motivation is an external force that drives or prompts people to act. Usually in the form of carrots and sticks (more money or vacation, a demotion or less independence in your role), if the motivation is removed, the behaviour or action stops. So while motivation might work for short term goals, it doesn’t produce lasting results and it requires a lot of ongoing effort to maintain.
A more effective approach is to inspire your employees. Inspiration is an internal force that prompts spontaneous action. Inspiration originates with your employees and, if you can tap into it, is self-perpetuating. Once you’ve inspired an employee in their role, they are more engaged and more productive for the long term.
So how do you inspire someone? The first step is to find out what’s important to them; what they value. Everyone has a set of values and they always act in accordance with those values. When talking about values, I’m not referring to the types of values we commonly hear – loyalty, integrity, honesty, for example. Those are ideals that people champion but which don’t necessarily dictate their behaviour. People demonstrate their true values by what they do. Observing how someone spends their time, energy, and money will give you key insights into what their priorities are. These priorities, or values, are the primary driver of human behaviour and the key to inspiration.
No one is ever committed to work, to a relationship, to a financial plan, etc. – they are only committed to their highest values. Because a person’s highest value is the thing that’s most important to them, it’s also the thing that they find most fulfilling. If someone sees the link between a task or activity and their highest value, they’ll do it. The more closely aligned to their highest values an individual views a task, the more fulfilling it is to them and ultimately therefore, the more inspiring it is to them. Your job then, if you want to inspire your employees to act in a particular way, is to figure out their highest values and communicate to them how the desired behaviour fulfills their values.
Let me give you an example. Let’s say you have an employee, Betty, who doesn’t seem to like attending meetings. She is often late for them; she is reluctant to schedule a meeting even if it would be a more efficient way of getting or communicating information; and she is not a very active participant when she does attend. When you ask Betty about her behaviour, she admits that she doesn’t like the conflict that often seems to arise in meetings; she has other work that needs to get finished before she can go home; and she has difficulty managing her schedule to accommodate all the meetings.
Because you have paid careful attention to what Betty does, you are able to determine that raising her children is a high value for her. (She talks about her children daily; she has pictures of them at her desk; she spends money sending them to classes and camps; she reads a lot of parenting books and magazines.) You understand that Betty’s behaviour with regard to meetings is because she doesn’t recognize how attending and participating in those meetings helps her fulfill her value of raising her children.
How can you inspire Betty to change her behaviour and be more productive and engaged in meetings? Look at the specific behaviour you would like her to change and ask her to identify how doing that thing helps her raise her children. For example, when you ask Betty how managing her schedule better so that she can attend meetings on time helps her raise her children, she may realize that it improves her time management skills. This skill helps her better schedule and manage the children’s activities which means they can go to soccer, swimming and piano lessons.
Ask Betty how embracing the conflict that arises in meetings and learning to better communicate with difficult personalities helps her raise her children, and Betty may discover that she learns a skill that translates to helping her better deal with the difficult personalities in her children’s lives – namely, teachers, other parents, and coaches. Betty is also able to teach this skill to her children. When Betty sees enough connections between a task and her priority of raising children, you no longer need to try to motivate her to do it. Betty becomes inspired to do the task because she sees how it directly helps her fulfill something that she highly values.
Inspiration is the source of sustained change. It creates more enthusiastic and engaged employees which directly translates into increased productivity and retention, and reduced time and effort managing related performance issues. Moving from motivation to inspiration is the most powerful change you can make in your business.