PracticeConsultingThe secret of motivation

The secret of motivation

As details of London's Olympic bid emerge, it's worth considering how elite athletes and corporate players motivate themselves to perform at the highest levels on such a consistent basis.

Despite countless publications trumpeting the latest idea on how to motivate yourself and your employees, despite small armies of speakers delivering ‘pep talks’, motivation is still one of the biggest issues plaguing individuals, teams and even entire organisations.

It’s not hard to see why. If you travel on the tube in London, you only have to open your eyes to see thousands of miserable people dragging themselves into work. Research shows that, despite unheralded wealth and access to greater resources, working people are unhappier than ever before. Clearly, the effort put into motivation is not working.

Reflect on your own motivation – are there activities that you engage in simply because you’re passionate about them? What about those where you’re only there because you’re being paid or because you’ll feel guilty if you don’t?

Why we do what we do differs enormously between people and tasks. One-size motivational schemes might help lazy managers put a tick in the box, but they don’t work because we are not machines.

A combination of research and our experiences working with the elite shows that the more that motivation is internal – ‘I do it because I love it’, or ‘it’s part of who I am’ – the higher the performance.

There are people who believe staff are purely motivated by material rewards. So at what point does the reason they get out of bed begin to control them? The best performances do not come from people who feel strongly controlled.

Internally motivated teams and individuals have higher levels of interest, excitement and confidence and perform better as a result. So instead of simply enhancing the bonus scheme, if you’re serious about long-term consistent performance, make sure you and your team have as much autonomy as possible, feel confident in the jobs to be done and have adequate emotional support. It will cost less and the results will be better.

Keith Hatter is CEO of K2 Performance Systems.

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