Nobody said it would be easy, and in fact, maintaining or increasing the motivation of workers is a huge challenge. There are many different ways to go about it. But we should reflect on certain aspects that, in one way or another, affect our workers.

Motivating is an art, not a science

Neither it is about human engineering, nor a question of mathematical calculations, probabilities or manipulations of any kind. It is simply the art of understanding what motivates a particular person and how that can act as the key to unlocking their productivity.

I call it an art because it is not a question of mathematics: the sum of everything that leaders do to motivate their people results in something completely different than the sum of its parts; sometimes the result is much greater, sometimes much smaller. And, to be frank, it is also tough to measure the degree of impact specific actions or motivational strategies have on their recipients.

There are no universal techniques or strategies

Because, as we were saying, human beings are not as straightforward as simple arithmetic, they are complex and individual entities. As the saying goes, every person is a world. And each “world” requires something unique, personal, and completely different from the others around them. A strategy that works for one person will not necessarily work for another. Motivational techniques must be reconsidered for each person. Personalisation is the key.

Proximity is key for motivation

And because each person is a world, leaders cannot be far away if they intend to understand and attract them, sense their needs, their aspirations and what motivates them. Remote leadership is a pipe dream that borders on being oxymoronic. Leaders need to be so close to the team that nobody doubts they are part of it. You have to be able to listen, observe and examine the smallest details (sometimes a simple and subtle gesture when a person is given a specific task is enough to tell us that something is wrong), you must be empathetic and put yourself in other people’s shoes. Without proximity (and sensitivity) there can be no understanding, and without understanding it is impossible to motivate.


Discouraging is much easier than motivating

For the most part, when people start something they do it with enthusiasm, motivation comes as standard. Whether they start a new job or embark on a project that has just begun, they are eager to prove themselves, to really show how much they can do, to try new things, to face challenges, to change, to discover, to learn. But that motivation fades, it becomes diluted over time if left unaddressed.

Work is no longer new and stimulating, projects are not exciting anymore and challenges become obstacles. And often this is caused by an omission, a lack of motivational incentives to revitalise them, to return them to their original state: the homo motivatus.

Sometimes workers are discouraged by action (not by omission): a word out of place, unpleasant working conditions, excessive rigidity, lack of empathy, a flood of work and tasks without established priorities… the list is endless. A good leader takes great care not to sabotage the motivation accrued up until a given moment. Mistakes, however small, can be costly.

Always avoid “Direct” payment

You don’t always have to “pay” for the effort made. You don’t always have to wait for the worker to take the first step, to do their part so that they can be rewarded. Few are aware of the enormous impact of implementing motivational strategies that are not linked to results and that are put into effect before the worker does anything. It is about reversing the steps and motivating to generate an increase in productivity, and not expecting an increase in productivity to be rewarded. Some possible examples include:

A) A more pleasant workplace that encourages the desire to work in every way: pleasant work environment, listening and taking different views into account, providing a pleasant space where you would want to work, etc.

B) Give “unexpected” compensation that no one can feel directly deserving of, this will enhance the feeling of being rewarded for overall effort and not for specific actions.

Reward the effort, not the success

If someone has given their all and exceeded all expectations, but their efforts haven’t ultimately translated into success, they deserve recognition so they can see that their efforts haven’t been completely in vain. Consider this, what kind of behaviour can we expect from someone who has made great efforts without being recognised for them, regardless of whether they were successful or not?

And, on the contrary, if someone has achieved success then they have done what they were asked to do, but what if we know that they could have done much more or that their management was poor? This person should only be acknowledged for their success with the task, in no case should they receive additional compensation that implies they should also be taking all the credit.


In short, since motivation is an art, the task is complex and diverse. But we cannot let the old ways, which have now been superseded, become embedded in our team leading techniques.

We must remember that, actually, employees and employers want the same thing, to work well and be proud of what we do. Anything we can do ourselves to facilitate this will have positive effects.

Marc Ambit – Consultant and trainer. Teaching Project Management at TBS Barcelona

Tags: leadership|motivation

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