Conversations that Motivate

Employers talk a lot about “motivating” employees. But motivation comes from within. You can’t make someone get excited about their job at your firm. But you can foster an environment that engages people in ways that inspire their inner drive. Who wouldn’t be excited to know their company values them as an individual and as a contributor?

You can achieve that through conversations you have with your team members. We all realize when we feel generally jazzed or tepid about our job, but many of us have never overtly considered why we feel that way. By asking key questions of your employees – and listening carefully to their answers – you can uncover what makes them happy in their work. You’ll learn a lot more than that, too.


What kind of conversations should you have?

Dan Pink wrote a book called Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. He says workers are motivated when they feel a sense of autonomy, mastery and purpose. They have enough “space” and authority to think creatively. They can perfect their skills and develop new ones. And they understand the “why” behind what they do every day.

Motivational conversations stimulate engagement:

  • Create a process that enables your people to give negative feedback without fear of reprisal. No company is perfect, nor are your managers, but you can’t fix problems you don’t know about. Whether employees air their concerns anonymously or in a group, your job is to listen.

Behind many complaints there is often a good suggestion. So ask if they have a suggested solution for you. Following up and letting people know the resolution tells employees you care what they think. It also sets an example for continuous improvement.

  • Ask for ideas. Or input. You undoubtedly encourage collaboration among team members, but you can take that to a higher level. When you actively encourage sharing of ideas and group problem-solving, you get better results. New products or services. New approaches to internal operations or customer service or marketing. The company benefits in tangible ways, and your employees feel like bona fide contributors. That’s buy-in no amount of salary can buy.
  • Converse with folks one-on-one. Ask each of them to relay their most exciting work experience this month. Why was it so exciting for them? Ask if their current position is less than ideal and, if so, how they could bring more to it and make it more enjoyable for themselves at the same time.

Learn about them as people – their family and pets, what they like to do outside work, their frustrations about balancing work and the rest of their life. Watch their body language as they talk. Between their words and their actions, you’ll be able to detect what matters to them and what excites them. One of the most important factors in hiring and employee retention today is flexibility. When you know more about people, it’s easier to find ways to be more accommodating for them.

  • Frequently update everyone on company goals, progress and other news. Knowing the big picture helps each individual see where they fit in and why their role is important in achieving goals. It also allows different types of employees to see how their actions and timing affect the work of others within the company.


It’s time to start talking.

Here’s something that will motivate you to start these conversations right away: Gallup says 71% of Americans are “not engaged” or (even worse) “actively disengaged” with their job.

Engagement starts with strategic conversation. Consider how you can initiate the conversations described here to engage your employees and help each of them uncover their own internal motivators. And don’t forget those simplest of “conversations” – the times when you say “thank you for a job well done.”