What motivates people?

The first response of almost everyone you ask this question is “money”. Yet in study after study, money has only proven to be a motivator when someone is in grinding poverty or in a situation of narcissistic hoarding.

Even then, as soon as the money arrives, the person receiving it starts looking for something else to fill the void. Money alone is neither motivating or satisfying. It is a tool to get to what you want or where you want to go, but in itself, is not motivating. In fact in many situations individuals offered a kind act or mentored another person, they were insulted when offered money. In other workplace situations where a money incentive is given as a way to increase desired attitudes, work performance drops and so does mood.

Q: How many psychologists does it take to change a light bulb?

A: One but the light bulb has to want to change!

Motivation comes from within. People need to want to do something well, help others or overcome challenges within themselves. You can’t make them want to do something. Share on X Volition comes from inside a person. If you appeal to people’s sense of purpose, their influence over others, their talents, virtues and powers and the way their actions affect the team, you can create a climate for motivation. But the motivation has to actually come from the person. That’s why it is so important to hire people who want to do the job in the first place. If they already want to be there and do things well, you don’t need to incentivize them, you just need to acknowledge their contributions and appreciate their worth as human beings.

However, as a leader you can very much influence the climate of motivation to pre-influence or create the conditions for attitudes and practices you want to see around you. You can do that by creating a foundation for motivation and a climate for motivation. Remember that people want to feel secure at work and this is a very powerful drive. Share on X There are four foundational pillars for creating a foundation of motivation. They involve how you make them feel, how you include them, how you teach your team to validate each other and how you use goals and measures to get everyone focused on the same outcomes.

“People may forget what you say, but they will never forget how you made them feel”

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Four principles for creating a climate of motivation

  1. How you make people feel: Validating and acknowledging others involves recognizing specific tasks and efforts, showing an interest in other people’s lives and speaking to them with respect and kindness.
  2. The best way to increase a sense of belonging is to ask for other’s opinions and seriously consider them, and to get them to participate in aspects of decision making that are within the realm of their control. No one likes to be told what to do all the time, or to have their ideas regularly dismissed. Think about your own experience; when someone asks you, “What do you think about this? I really need to get your input”, doesn’t that make you feel important to the person who asked?
  3. It is not enough to act like the “mom” of the team and always be dishing out happiness and advice. Your job as supervisor is to get others to validate, recognize and listen to their team so that the group becomes a healthy organism. Many, many people have had little or no pro-social instruction, awareness or training and simply don’t know how to treat others. You need to teach the team members how to greet, validate, thank and show appreciation and let them know that you expect this helpful and inclusive behaviour from everyone on the team.
  4. Setting goals and getting the team to measure progress towards those goals is very motivating. When everyone focuses on a goal together it feels fantastic. Have you ever seen a group of people push a car out of the snow or get a cat out of a tree? Everyone cheers and is so happy to have contributed to the joint effort. If a measurement isn’t working, get the team’s input as to why.

Now that you have an idea of how to set the foundational pillars for workplace motivation, think about making temperature adjustments. Things go wrong, people have bad days, equipment fails and businesses struggle to survive. To keep the emotional temperature from going over the top or freezing in these circumstances, you need to develop your story telling skills.

The right story from your life to the right employee or team at the right time can be life altering. People remember stories. They can recall information from stories and use them as ways to trigger motivation when they need it. A story stands as an example of how to be or a goal of where you could be. With stories you touch people’s hearts and once the heart leads, the mind follows. If you want to get to your KPI’s without nagging or prodding your team members, tell some strategically placed stories and people will find a way to get to the goal.

Four story themes for a climate of motivation

Here are four typical themes you might like to consider collecting stories about to help create a climate of workplace motivation. Thanks to Mark Breslin’s Alpha Dog book for these great story themes 🙂

1. The organization’s story:

How your organization got to where it is, or how your founder started everything and overcame difficulties until everything was at the point it is today is very inspiring. If you don’t know the story, interview people and find out. It will always serve you well.

2. The “how I got here” story:

This type of story shows your journey chronologically so people can imagine them selves taking the same path. It goes through the decisions you took and steps required to get to each rung on the ladder.

3. My total F-up story:

Maybe you sabotaged your career, estranged your relatives or lost millions of dollars for your company. We all have messed up big at sometime in our lives. Most Angel Investor groups won’t accept investors who haven’t failed significantly or lost a business. That’s how important it is to fail – and then learn from the mistake and rebuild.

4. Parables of job performance (good, bad and reworked):

In this story category you can tell a safety story, an attitude story or a mind set story to get your point across. What ever you decide to share, it should show a good, a bad and a reworked way of doing the job. This is different from the above story themes because it involves contrasting what not to do, what to do and how to fix something that didn’t turn out. It gives people an example of the attitude, the tools and the end results of a specific job.

So there you have it folks. Follow the four principles of motivation to create a climate that literally grows motivational behaviour. Then use your own experience stories to help the team get from A to B. And get them to tell their stories too! It is very motivating to have your story heard and acknowledged.

How will you use these principles and stories to motivate your team?

Once you have an idea, help us all to be more successful leaders by messaging your idea or emailing it to marie@shiftworkplace.com.

Key Take-Aways:

  1. Money alone is neither motivating or satisfying. It is a tool to get to what you want or where you want to go, but in itself, is not motivating.

  2. Motivation comes from within but as a leader you can influence the structure and climate of the workplace so that it encourages motivation.

The four pillars of workplace motivation:

  1. How you make people feel
  2. How you include others in decision making
  3. How you teach your team to support each other
  4. How you use goals and measures to orient everyone to the same outcome

The four workplace “Temperature adjustment” story archetypes:

  1. Organization’s story
  2. How I got here story
  3. The major F-up story
  4. Parables of job performance


About Marie:

Marie Gervais, PhD., CEO of Shift Management Inc., provides managerial training and workforce interpersonal development to business and industry through online courses and web coaching. She helps individuals and organizations build talent and skills for leadership, communication, and conflict resolution particularly at the supervisory and middle management level. Her work has gained a reputation for excellence in integration and inclusion of the diverse workforce. With her team at Shift Management, Dr Gervais helps clients reach their business goals through team building coaching and industry-specific training development for interpersonal leadership skills. Her impactful digital and multi-media resources have been successfully implemented with many different populations and contexts. The results prove that a learning workplace is a happy and profitable one!

Check out Marie’s podcast Culture and Leadership Connections on Apple Podcasts and on the Shift website to hear stories of leadership and all things cultural. Consider the signature Supervisory Leadership Certificate Course for upskilling your workforce at:


Contact information:


780 993 1062