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Self-motivation is hard. But at least when self-motivating, we have a good sense of what’s important to the person we’re trying to motivate.
When motivating others, our first impulse is to use the motivations that would work for us. Money, cookies, praise, getting-out-of-doing-laundry, trophies, play-time with puppies, fast-track to promotion, etc.—there are many things that might motivate us, but they might not motivate others.
Consider what works for you as a starting point. But always remember that other people might prefer something else. For example, being given a “high-five” is actually unpleasant and stressful for many introverts. And praising a “good effort” falls flat with many Type-A extroverts, who only care about the results.
If you want some insights into your staffers’ motivations, ask them individually, “What’s the best compliment you ever got?” Feel free to let them give you several examples, then look for the common theme. Were they praised for their expertise? Accomplishment? Effort? Precision? Perfection? Teamwork? In a group? Individually? Make a mental note to try to praise them in similar terms, when authentic and warranted. Build up your people with words. You can also ask them how they prefer rewards (public/private, personalized or in cash/gift-card form, etc.) and make the effort to meet them where it works for them.