What is motivation? It is our drive or impulse to act. If you were to consider how motivated you are right now on a scale of 1-10, what would you score yourself and why? A massive part of being able to master motivation is to understand what both motivates you and demotivates you so that you can proactively manage your motivation levels.

“People often say that motiva tion doesn’t last, Well, neither does bathing – that’s why we recommend it daily” Zig Ziglar

Like the famous Zig Ziglar quote, motivation is in a constant state of flux and requires care and attention to keep it in shape. What drives our levels of motivation can be quite unconscious, and different for each and every one of us, so we’re not always aware of what truly drives us. This is fine if we’re feeling fired up and engaged but not so great when our levels dip and we don’t know how to boost them back up again. By increasing our awareness of our internal drivers we can more easily tap into and boost our levels of motivation with volition. In Daniel Pink’s great book on motivation, ‘Drive’ he studied well known motivational theories such as Maslow and Herzberg and his research showed that these motivational theories are underpinned by two main motivational drivers: what he called Intrinsic (internal) and Extrinsic (external).

Internal drivers otherwise known as values have no physical form, they are intangible – they are the things that are important to us in any given context. For example, you might have work-based values such as satisfaction, enjoyment, engagement and security. External drivers tend to have physical form and are more tangible – they’re things like bonuses, incentives, praise, money and of course, chocolate. His research showed that if we want long-term, sustainable levels of motivation we need to focus on the internal drivers not the external. This is because external drivers are finite, they run out – so we will always need bigger, better, faster, to sustain the same levels of motivation and most interestingly, if we try too often to motivate people with external drivers it can have a detrimental impact on their performance over time. Instead, if we can uncover what drives us internally, establish what our core values are, we can find an infinite number of ways to tap into them.

A great way to find out what yours or your direct reports internal drivers are is to do a Values Elicitation, 3 simple steps to uncover work-based drivers:

Step 1: Ask yourself or a direct report the following questions to elicit a list of values:

  1. What’s important to you about your career or work?
  2. What else, what else…? Keep prompting
  3. Think of a specific time in the past when you were really motivated at work or in your career what led to those feelings of motivation?
  4. Looking at your list, what is missing that you would need to be totally motivated at work or in your career?
  5. If you had to think of one more thing that was important to you about your work or career, what would it be?

– From this you should end up with a list of between 6-15 words.

Step 2: time to create a values hierarchy from your list of words. You’re going to pick out your top six and put them in order from 1-6. Number 1 is the most important to you down through to number 6. Think of all these values like a big ball of wool – they’re all connected, we’re just pulling them apart so you can learn what really drives you and to what degree, on a much more conscious level so that you can tap into them more easily.

The top 3 values are what we call the Deal Breakers – if we go for a sustained period of time without these values being fulfilled it can lead to us feeling unhappy and disengaged and so it’s crucial to address this ASAP if that’s the case.

Step 3: probably the most important step, particularly if you’re doing this technique with one of your direct reports, is where we create a definition for each of the top 6 values and what they mean in the context of work and career.

This is essential as one of the biggest motivation mistakes we can make as a manager, is assuming everybody’s motivated the same as us. They are not. We are all motivated in different ways. And even if we share the same value, we may mean very different things by it so these definitions help us gaining clarification over what they mean. We can use questions like this as prompts to create a short paragraph defining each value:

  1. What does (value) mean to you in the context of your career/work?
  2. How do you know when you have it (value)?
  3. If you didn’t have it fulfilled, what could you do to increase it?

Once we have these definitions to hand we can use them personally, as a reminder of how to keep ourselves motivated and/or with our direct reports to really engage them when delegating tasks and managing performance – using their words to motivate them.

Think of our values like inflatables. When our values are fully inflated, like inflatable toys in a swimming pool – we feel buoyant, we feel a sense of joy, everything is easy – but sometimes the air comes out of our inflatables, they get a bit saggy and we feel deflated. So, the next time you or a direct report is feeling unmotivated, grab that list of values, have a look at the definitions to remember what really motivates you and see if you can find a way to pump your values back up and feel inflated and buoyant once more.


Jules MacMillan has been a Coach & Trainer in the field of People Development since 2003 and is Managing Director of Cascade Learning Ltd. For more information please visit www.cascadelearning.co.uk

References: Dan Pink (2009) Drive – The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, Riverhead Books