Have you wondered why some members of your team are not as productive as you would like them to be? One person might be driven, enthusiastic, and conscientious, whereas another person, equally capable, might seem to be disinterested.

Perhaps you think that some sort of incentive would help. And yet, you can have two equally capable people, in the same role, subject to the same incentive scheme and still get vastly different performance.

The curious case of what motivates people

The company bonus scheme is often the first point of call when it comes to improving performance. However, there are many research studies that demonstrate that carrots and sticks don’t work.

All of our people need to work with autonomy, mastery and purpose.

For a deeper dive, there is the classic Drive – the Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Dan Pink. This easy to read book draws on more than 40 years of research into human motivation.

To motivate employees, Pink argues that the following three areas are at the root of increased performance and satisfaction:

  • Autonomy — our desire to be self-directed. It increases engagement over compliance.
  • Mastery — the urge to acquire better skills.
  • Purpose — the desire to do something that has meaning and is important.

    Businesses that only focus on profits without valuing purpose will end up with poor customer service and unhappy employees.

Finding purpose

Unfortunately for business owners and leaders, “purpose” means different things to different people, and they may express it in many different ways.

Psychologists have identified six intrinsic motivators. These are a cluster of values that we believe to be fundamentally important, with a similar underlying pattern or idea.

They are:

  • Theoretical – a drive for knowledge and learning.
  • Utilitarian – a drive for practicality, value and return on investment.
  • Aesthetic – a drive for beauty and creative expression.
  • Social – a drive for compassion and helping others.
  • Individualistic – a drive for uniqueness, status and to lead.
  • Traditional – a drive for unity, order and a system for living.

Our primary motivators help determine what gives us joy, happiness, energy and purpose — at work and in life.

Why do teams argue about trivial things?

Have you ever wondered why your team have heated arguments about seemingly trivial things?

It's easy to find that you are having constant run-ins with a colleague. You think the office is a mess and get frustrated because they spend too much time thinking about the new colour scheme.

When we talk about values, we often think of “honesty”, or “integrity”. These are things we can believe in and use to inspire our teams. We know that a clash of values can cause friction within the team, and the same is true of the underlying motivators.

It may be that your “Aesthetic” drive is fairly low – definitely about function over form. Yet your colleague has high drivers for “Aesthetic” and “Traditional”. If you had both known this maybe you would have understood each other better.

You could have changed the way you behaved towards each other, and wasted a lot less time and energy.

If you can tap into the motivators of your team, you can create an emotionally intelligent environment that provides them with the purpose they crave, and unleashes their potential.

How can I spot the hidden motivators if they’re hidden?

If someone has a passion for knowledge and learning, you will hear them talk about it.

For some of the other motivators, there can be cultural reasons why they may not be so obvious: we may not want to appear greedy, or arrogant, or we might not want to come across as inflexible, when all we crave is stability and order.

When we work with clients, we use the Workplace Motivators tool from TTI Success Insights. This helps you to understand what drives your team, so that you can create the very best environment for success.

At one client there were constant arguments between the business owner and his business development manager – “money, money, money – he always wants to spend my money”.

When we carried out the workplace motivators study, we found that they had very similar “Utilitarian” measures. No surprise here – a drive to achieve a good return on investment is a good thing for a business owner or salesman.

However, when it came to their "Aesthetic" drive, they were streets apart. The salesman had a strong aesthetic drive, and the business owner was indifferent. The salesman wanted a budget to make the office surroundings more pleasant – the business owner misinterpreted this as a desire for more money.

By reviewing the results with them, we were able to create a better understanding. For a very modest spend, they created the harmonious working environment that the salesman craved, enabling him to perform at a higher level.

What next?

If you would like to understand your team better, we have a range of tools at our disposal. We have many years of experience of helping business leaders to gain better performance from their team.

Drop us a line