What Motivates You?
Motivation and What It
Means for Career Fulfilment

Several years ago, one of my great mentors made a very simple suggestion. He advised me to ask each member of my team one question: ‘What motivates you?’


At the time, I was in charge of 20 direct reports, juggling urgent deadlines and the general demands of dynamic team management. I was quite taken aback at his recommendation. Surely I didn’t have time to conduct such a seemingly arbitrary exercise when there was so much real work to be done?

But how right he was.

In all my experience leading teams, it was the singular, most important question I ever posed. Answers ranged from being given increased responsibility to the potential for role expansion. I found out things I had never known – but really should have. One of the team was a qualified solicitor, another an accomplished musician. Above all, I learned about each individual’s ambition and what I could do to support them in their personal and professional development. Perhaps what surprised me most was that every team member thanked me for taking the time to listen to them and for showing a genuine interest in their career.

At the end of our discussions, I reflected on what the team had shared. From there, I began to structure career development plans for each person, building in their specific motivational needs and aspirations. And to be honest, I haven’t looked back since.

Motivation is a hot topic in the context of building a career, leading a team or achieving greater business success. By definition, it describes not only the motive but also the process of provoking someone into action.

Many theories exist on the provenance of motivation and its significance to professional development. However, one that I return to again and again is Frederick Herzberg’s Two-Factor Theory of Job Satisfaction, commonly referred to as Motivation-Hygiene Theory or Intrinsic vs Extrinsic Motivation. According to Herzberg, there are two factors that influence motivation and they do so in two very different ways:

1. Hygiene Factors (Extrinsic)

While their presence has little recognised impact, the absence of hygiene factors has been proven to stimulate motivation. Aspects such as working conditions, job security, pay and benefits all fall into this category. Removing or diminishing any of these can lead to discontent and, in many cases, provoke action to recover the perceived loss.

2. Motivational Factors (Intrinsic)

On the other hand, the absence of motivational factors is not seen to cause notable dissatisfaction but their presence clearly motivates. Intrinsic motivators, such as opportunities for promotion, personal growth, acknowledgement, responsibility and achievement, all generate lasting job satisfaction.

Personally, it has always been the intrinsic factors that have guided me. In my early career, at no time was I more fulfilled than when working with a leader who valued me, gave me considerable autonomy and empowered me to make decisions. It was these things that motivated me, not the extrinsic aspects like status or working environment (which, while important, actually did not drive me). I would even go so far as to say that leaders, who correctly address the extrinsic/intrinsic motivational balance, have the power to create teams that will ‘go to the moon’ for them.

Years later, my mentor’s advice continues to resonate and I now ask my clients that very same, simple question. Responses lean heavily on the intrinsic side of the scale and regular themes that emerge are those of feeling valued, being respected and getting recognition for a job well done.

Knowing our motivations enables us to make more effective career choices and ultimately achieve greater professional satisfaction. Knowing what motivates others . . . well, that can unlock true business success.

Next time I’ll be looking at Organisational Culture and how to create a winning one for your business.

Organisational Culture
Devising a Winning Culture for Your Team

I came across an article recently claiming that organisational culture not only eats strategy for breakfast – but lunch and dinner too. I couldn’t agree more. Developing an appropriate culture within an organisation helps teams to thrive and to reach and exceed their strategic goals.

But what exactly is organisational culture?