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How To Motivate a Team

How to motivate a team as a leader or executive if you need to perform or have more output, including vocational and culture considerations.

There are many executive clients I work with that need to motivate their talent and ask me how to properly motivate a team. There are many factors that come into this, but several can be especially interesting for motivating people.

Besides “empty”, short-term motivational strategies such as pep talks or giving people superficial perks such as granola bars or pizza parties, there are a few key long-term strategies that can truly impact motivation in others. These include:

  1. Your influence and persuasion capabilities as a leader;
  2. The person’s cultural/value fit;
  3. The person’s vocational fit;

Leader Influence/Persuasion

Talent nowadays is qualified, smart, and does not tolerate ineffective leadership. For a leader to be able to lead their talent, they must show technical competence, but also a capacity for persuasion and influence of different people in different contexts.

The Kingmaker Influence framework provides a great framework for executives to use when leading their team (also other uses, such as board and executive relations). This framework includes tactics such as:

  • Personality tailoring: Assessing the personality of the listener according to a framework like the Four Perceived Personalities and tailoring communication based on it;
  • Eroding convictions. Requesting empathy from the other side on what their experience or basis is for their opinion, then gently undermining it with possible alternatives helps erode their point of view and install yours. Especially important for talent that resists your leadership or disagrees openly with your point of view;
  • Empathetic identification. Establishing yourself as a role model by being open about your experiences in common with your talent helps build empathy with them and lead them better. They will understand they’re going through the same journey as you, and see you as a leader with more authority, vulnerable and open;
  • Draining objections. Starting from the negative, drawing objections and then addressing them immediately will defuse possible future situations of lack of alignment by pre-empting them and dealing with problems while they are still small;

Talent Cultural/Value Fit

Knowing how your talent aligns with your culture and values is important, and it’s a great component of determining how satisfied and motivated they will be at the end of the day.

Some frameworks like the Cultural Cascading framework contain multiple tools to allow you to assess and correct cultural misalignments. These can include:

  • Your transference of expectations and projections and your displacement emotions onto your talent;
  • A lack of alignment between your values and virtues (what you espouse to do and what you actually do);
  • The automation of your good and bad traits onto talent;

After diagnosing where there is a lack of cultural fit, to be very pragmatic you only have two choices: either the person agrees to change behavior to reflect the company’s culture and values better, or you should part ways. There are levels of seriousness, naturally, but in general, having someone with different rules for behavior and decisions in your company is not only suboptimal, it can spread to other workers fast.

Talent Vocational Fit

Doing some very simple vocational assessments like the RIASEC or Career Anchors ones will yield key information about the employee’s vocational tendencies, and subsequently his motivations.

For example, people with a high Artistic and low Realistic dimensions in the RIASEC assessments will have a very strong tendency to prefer unstructured versus structured work, and therefore will perform better at it. When choosing someone for a task that involves persuasion and selling, choosing the team member with the highest Enterprising dimension can also yield powerful results.

The Career Anchors assessment can work in a similar way, identifying individuals that have a Technical/Functional Competence orientation, whose primary motivation is the use of their skills, versus Managerial Competence-oriented, that want integrative, cross-department work. The eight different anchors all reveal different desired types of work, compensation, benefits, promotion and recognition systems.

Conclusion: Towards Effective Talent Motivation

In terms of motivating talent, although there are known “small fixes” (i.e., pizza party), the real capacity to truly leverage and motivate someone’s inner talent comes down to effective leadership, influence, but also vocational and cultural fit. The three steps presented allow leaders to more effectively diagnose and executive motivational leadership, knowing their talent and leveraging their strengths.

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