Matt Granados is an Entrepreneurs' Organization (EO) member in St. Louis and the author of Motivate the Unmotivated: The Proven System for Sustainable Motivation. He's also a speaker and the co-founder of Life Pulse Inc, a company devoted to enhancing productivity, intentionality and motivation to help individuals and their companies grow. Matt helps organizations including Twitter, CBRE, Google and the United States Air Force to get the most from their teams, so we asked about his secrets for motivating people. Here's what he shared. 

As a result of the COVID-19 crisis, your business is likely operating in a strange new world where employees work from home and Zoom meetings reign supreme. It seems like almost everything has changed--including your team's level of motivation. It's not hard to understand why that's happened, but dwindling motivation may be difficult to overcome.

That's why a deep dive into the inner workings of motivation is the key to leading your team to higher productivity for the long haul.

The mechanics of motivation

Motivation is not a character trait--it's a state of mind. Motivation is a choice we make. Some people find themselves in a motivated state more often than others, and that state of mind can be challenging to inspire in others. 

What's the factor that hinders anyone's level of motivation? I call it the motivational synapse.

Biologically, a synapse is a tiny gap across which nerve impulses are transmitted and received. But if there's a disconnect--or in the case of motivation, a wall to overcome--impulses can't make the leap and connect into action. Similarly, for the purposes of explaining motivation, a motivational synapse is what connects action with outcome.

For example, as a business owner, when you are in a motivated state of mind, it's easy to make the connection between actions and outcomes. If your action is to conduct more sales outreach, the outcome will likely be an increase in sales and profit. As an entrepreneur, it's as if we can actually feel that outcome as reality. You're inspired by that outcome, so you're willing to do the actions that get you there. That's motivation.

Employees, however, are a different story. It may be more difficult for them to tie their actions to the desired outcome. Or they may have what we call a "motivational wall" causing a disconnect between action and outcome. It's up to you to surmount that motivational wall. The difficulty is to find a system that will motivate employees not just temporarily, but for the long term--and in a sustainable and repeatable way. So, what does that look like?

Two motivators that don't work

Some leaders rely on fear-based motivation, which uses force to motivate. If employees don't hit their goals, they'll suffer a negative consequence. While that may work in the short-term, it's not a long-haul answer. It requires ongoing energy to drive an ever-increasing level of fear. And nobody wants to be an angry, screaming boss 24/7.

Interestingly, money isn't an effective long-term motivator either. It's a maximizer that gets people to react quickly, but it's not sustainable. Even when you give employees a simple raise or a bonus, it may motivate them--at the longest--until their next paycheck. And most of us aren't in the position to give bimonthly bonuses, so it's not a repeatable motivator.

Identifying motivational catalysts

The answer lies in identifying each employee's motivational catalyst--the internal desire that makes each of us do what we do. Motivational catalysts are potent drivers of action.

Research tells us that four things spark employee motivation in the workplace: 

  1. Freedom:  Living the lifestyle they want is the ultimate inspiration. Maybe it's extra days off to travel, or a more flexible workday.
  2. Connectivity:  Collaborators and team players, these individuals seek connection both to the work itself and the people around them. Being a part of something larger than themselves is what feels best.
  3. Acknowledgment:  Praise amps them up. They need to know they're doing well, and have results publicly acknowledged.
  4. Support:  Intensely loyal, they want to know you have their back--because they have yours. Typically fair-minded, they expect the effort they put in to be matched by others, working together toward a common goal.

Motivational catalysts reflect what each individual values most. Pinpointing what people value is an essential first step in motivating them.

The next step is to connect that personal value to the task at hand. That connection is the key to motivating anyone.

Discover Personal Value Tied To Task (PVTT)

When you tie the value of an action to the values of an individual, motivation is the result. 

For example, to motivate an employee who values freedom, tie a freedom-based reward to their work goals. If they hit the goal, the reward might range from time off to first-class airline tickets for a long weekend. For a support-based employee, maybe the reward for achieving their goal is that you, the boss, will do their job for a period of time or run some of their personal errands for the day. 

Both scenarios provide value to the individual while also increasing productivity for the entire team. Connecting individual values to the task at hand is a tangible way to show employees that they're getting more than just a paycheck. They have your understanding and your commitment to helping them find value in the task at hand.

PVTT is the basis for a sustainable, repeatable model to increase employee motivation.

Understanding your employees

While you can give employees a quiz to discover motivational catalysts, it's especially valuable when you, the business owner, invest the time and energy into understanding  what drives them on a deeper level. That forges loyal, lasting relationships. 

During each Zoom one-on-one or team huddle, take a moment to ask each employee the same three questions: 

  • What are you focused on this week?
  • What are you grateful for?
  • What goals are you working toward?

Pay close attention to their answers. Week by week, you'll learn more about them by asking these three questions repeatedly. As their answers change--or stay the same--you'll gain a nuanced understanding that will empower you to better connect their tasks to the values that drive motivation.

By adopting a sustainable, repeatable system for motivating employees, you can function at a higher level of productivity, even when your goals change or your company pivots. The first step is to establish a reliable system, and then you have the structure in place to handle whatever challenges you and your employees may face.