How to Create a Motivational Work Environment

If you have read my book, 28 Days to a Motivated Team or any of my blog posts you know I am a zealot about correctly defining the concept of motivation.

When you think about being a motivating leader, you must think of motivation as the environment you create, not as something you do to someone or instill in others. Everybody has a large capacity for motivated behavior. Your job as a leader is to unleash it by helping create a conducive environment.

The research is clear. Motivation is deeply internal. Positive, enduring motivation comes from within initially, but a person’s motivation is supported or hindered by the environment. Knowing this, the question we should be asking ourselves as a leader is, “Am I creating and leading an environment that supports maximum motivation?”

There are 5 components I’ve found in my research and that of other researchers that give us a framework for creating environments that support both motivation and performance.

1. Freedom/Autonomy – To create enduring positive motivation, a person must be self-directed and feel a sense of freedom and autonomy in their work. If we feel we are being forced to do something we don’t value an innate reaction of rebellion kicks in. Humans have a fundamental need for freedom, even at work. Managers can help create autonomy by involving employees in the goal setting process or at the very least, allowing employees input and self-direction into how the goals are met.

Our globalized and virtual work world is already demanding the use of an autonomous and flexible paradigm of management. In this new era of work, managers must fully understand the outcomes and goals each team member is responsible for and focus job evaluations on a person’s results and collaborative efforts that support team results, not on the number of hours punched on a time-clock.

2. Positive Relationships -Connectedness with others is key to our ability to survive, be happy, and even thrive. It is certainly true that some have a weaker desire for social contact, but this does not negate the simple truth that people need other people for support, care, and community to live fulfilled. Whether you are a social butterfly or a private introvert, relationships with others will either support or hinder your natural motivation levels.

Research has shown supportive relationships to be a key to student success at school and employee commitment and achievement on the job. Positive relationships are also a major factor of one’s personal fulfillment and enjoyment in all aspects of our lives. Motivation can be supported and even increased when people feel a strong sense of belonging, feel needed, and have a solid support system. This kind of support also leads a person to feel a sense of responsibility to support and help others, thus reinforcing the desire to nurture these valued relationships.

3. Ability -If you do not think you will complete an activity, assignment, or goal with success you will not want to engage in it. Managers can help build an employee’s sense of competence by working with employees to provide goals that are challenging enough to stretch the person but not too challenging to cause a person to think it is impossible. Effective managers also try to put people into roles that align with the employee’s strengths.

Additionally, Great leaders use coaching to help employees who are learning new skills by giving adequate training, resources, timely feedback, and praise. The more you build a person’s confidence in his or her success, the more motivated the person will be.

4. Meaning -Nothing lights the fire of motivation and passion like participating in an activity that is aligned with our deepest values. When we become aware of our values and use this lens to see the activities in our lives we begin to gravitate to those which provide a sense of fulfillment. We can feed off the innate desire to give back and help, finding meaning and purpose in doing something greater than serving ourselves.

Many books declare the importance of meaning at work to motivate and engage people, but most don’t tell you how to make this happen. It’s one of the platitudes I hear the most. The fact is, most people really don’t understand what really makes meaning for people at work. Some say it is finding something altruistic in work, while others believe it is “changing the world.” Check out my blog post on How Meaning Really Motivates to learn about how people determine what is meaningful.

5. Energy –When I talk about energy I’m not talking about some kind of metaphysical energy. I’m talking about the emotional energy that is produced by a person, group of people, and a work environment.

I’m certain you have had the experience of being around someone who is an energy vampire. They seem to suck the energy out of everyone around them. This person is usually a complainer and a pessimist. They see most things as negative. They think and act as if they have not influence or control on the events of their lives. What’s sad is that these people are not happy and they are actively looking to recruit people into their clan of energy zappers. The old saying remains true with these people, “misery loves company.”

Environments that contain positive energy support people’s natural energy and sparks the energy of people who have negative energy. Just like negative energy, positive energy is contagious and can influence the perspectives and personal energy of the people in the environment. Environments that have high positive energy have the following characteristics.
·      Fun/Playful
·      Creative
·      Positive language/talk
·      No complaining policy
·      Celebrate accomplishments
·      Leader utilizes development coaching

Being a motivating leader has nothing to do with giving inspiring speeches or having some kind of special charisma. Rather, it’s all about creating and leading an environment that supports the natural motivation of others. Give people freedom, facilitate positive relationships, build capability and confidence in ability, help connect work with meaningfulness, and create positive energy that infects others.

 Photo Courtesy of Ambro via