How to Motivate People

People are at the centre of any business and every manager needs to know how they can build effective teams that improve their company’s bottom line. This means they must get to know what makes the people in their team “tick”.

To be successful your team members need to be in an environment that meets their four basic emotional needs. These four needs were first identified by Paul Lawrence and Nitin Nohria, who are both professors at Harvard University. The needs they identified are the drives to acquire, to defend, to bond and to learn. These needs are hardwired into the human brain and therefore influence everything we do.

By understanding how each need operates managers can understand how to increase their team members’ overall motivation.

The first need is the drive to acquire. Whether the acquisition is physical (such as food or money) or intangible (such as status) we are all driven to acquire that which we believe is in scarce supply.

The drive to acquire is, therefore, relative. We compare what we have with what those around us have and are happiest when we see that we have more.

For the manager, the easiest way to satisfy this drive to acquire is by introducing a recognition scheme which clearly distinguishes poor, average and superior performance, provides opportunities for people at all levels to progress and improve and connects rewards and recognition directly to performance. In other words, implementing an effective performance appraisal process.

The next need is the drive to defend. Humans naturally want to defend their family, friends and themselves against perceived or real external threats.

This driver is exhibited not only as defensive behaviour, but also as the need to have clear goals and a culture of transparency. These actions build trust and reduce the need for employees to feel the need to “watch their backs”.

The third need is the drive to bond. Human beings are social animals and we crave relationships with those around us. This driver makes us want to form connections with individuals and feel part of a group.

When people feel proud to be a part of their company and feel like they have an important role to play in their team, motivation and morale increase.

There is, however, also a downside to this driver. In some situations people form such close relationships with their team mates that it is hard for them to move out of their functional silo.

The manager can help to meet the drive to bond by encouraging a culture that supports, appreciates and practices effective teamwork, openness and collaboration.

The final need is the drive to learn. People want to make sense of the world around them and satisfy their curiosities. They become frustrated when something seems incomprehensible but are motivated by the challenge of figuring out solutions to obstacles and problems.

To satisfy the drive to learn the manager must ensure that the jobs their people do are challenging, meaningful and provide clear opportunities for personal growth. Failure to do this will increase your churn rate as team members who feel trapped will leave in order to find new challenges.

Understanding human motivation is just one aspect, all be it an important one, of the management skills you need to master for good people management. Now you understand the four drivers of human behaviour you will be able to get better performance from your team members.