The best managers motivate

Monday, 20 November 2017 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

By Victor Lipman

It’s that simple. Say it straight: The best managers motivate. If you’re a manager and you’re not motivating your people, you’re not doing your job. At least not as well as it should be done.

Over the years numerous advances have been made in the science of understanding human motivation. From Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs to David McClelland’s achievement-oriented, needs-based theory, to Daniel Pink’s excellent best-seller Drive (focusing on what Pink describes as autonomy, mastery and purpose), there are a variety of models that from a macro perspective help explain and order human motivational behaviour. They all provide deeply valuable insight into why people act and work the way they do.

From a micro perspective, though, if there’s one piece of practical tactical motivation-related counsel I have for managers, it’s the power and value of taking the time to get to know your employees individually. One thing I came to believe after a long career in management is that motivation is highly personal. And often idiosyncratic.

Theories are great and legitimately useful, but at an operational shop-floor level there’s little substitute for personal understanding.

The best managers recognise this and work to understand their employees. Followingare some of the more memorable motivational examples I’ve witnessed.


Many decades ago, before I was in management when I was young truck loader for a national trucking company, we had chronic problem with “miss-sorts” – packages loaded inadvertently onto the wrong trucks. I won’t go into all the industrial details here, (I describe the case more thoroughly in a 2012 Forbes post, How To Motivate Employees With ‘Outside The Box’ Thinking), but to make a long story short the problem continued unabated until one day an enterprising supervisor thought to offer us young blue collar worker cases of beer for a full week of mistake-free loading. The incentive worked brilliantly - it was perfectly targeted for our age, job and thirst. Loaders’ collective behaviour changed immediately. Life was good. I was 23 and had cases of Molson Beer (I well remember the brand) stacked high all around my small apartment.

Office space

 One outstanding employee I managed for years was motivated by nothing so much as the prospect of her own office (which she did ultimately and most deservedly get). Surprisingly, her desire had little to do with status and everything to do with silence. We worked in a largely open area, and she found the noise distracting and bothersome, and craved a quieter setting.


 Numerous employees I managed over the years were focused keenly on arranging their schedules to attend their kids’ athletic events. Recognising how much it meant to them, over time I came to always give the same answer: “As long as you can manage your work flow and your time is made up, it’s absolutely fine with me. Enjoy the game.” I felt the flexibility was greatly appreciated and was rewarded with diligent employee performance.


 I well recall one talented employee who was intensely motivated by nothing so much as the possibility of becoming an assistant vice president. I suspect he might willingly have traded a lesser body part for the privilege.

Motivations can change over time 

We’re not hard-wired to always be motivated by exactly the same things. Changing circumstances beget changing motivations. This I can say with 100% certainty. Why? My own life. When I was in my 20s, shortly after the truck loading days, I was a magazine journalist for a number of years, made relatively little money but didn’t care; I was highly motivated by the work/the intrinsic satisfaction of the job itself/the by-lined written product. (What Daniel Pink would call, I believe, purpose) A few years later I had a young family to support, many bills to pay, went into the business world, and was motivated relatively little by the work itself but greatly by the compensation it offered. (I might add that this phase of being highly money-motivated lasted for several decades!)

Simply put, things change: Same person, different circumstances, different motivating factors. As a manager, the better you know your employees – their hopes and dreams, likes and dislikes, fears and aspirations – the better chance you’ll be able to successfully motivate them.

It’s a cliché but still accurate: Different strokes for different folks. The best managers are closely attuned to this reality and use it thoughtfully.

(Extracted from internet)