You Can’t Motivate Anyone – But You Can Inspire Them: The Ultimate Guide to Building a Culture That Thrives
Motivation. The word reverberates in corporate corridors, yet its essence often eludes us. “How do I motivate my team?” is a constant managerial question. But it’s bollox. Here’s the brutal truth: You can’t. Motivation is internal, a fire that must be lit from within. But don’t misinterpret this. While you can’t motivate, you can demotivate! So your #1 managerial goal should be don’t piss off the team; having not done that, inspire them.
Sidebar – Hire for attitude. You will have heard that as often as I have. Ask the next person who says, “How do you do that?” Silence…So how do you do it? I look for people with a side hustle, not a Netflix habit. Look for folks who have competed in a sport. They have had the grit to practice twice weekly in the rain or get up at 5 a.m. daily to train. Interview people whose work experience included service, not just money. Some of my finest hires have had work experience in hospitality or retail. And you can test your shortlist. The Gallup Strength Assessment has a section on drive, and I look for achiever, responsibility and focus.
The Trap of Coercion Over Culture
Let’s cut through the BS. Before diving into how to inspire people, let’s talk about what doesn’t work – coercion. Coercion might yield short-term results, but it’s a Band-Aid solution. It’s unsustainable and, more importantly, not conducive to building a healthy culture. No one likes to be manipulated and produces their best work under duress. So, the next time you’re tempted to use the carrot-and-stick approach, remember that you might get movement but won’t get loyalty. You will still have a team who are willing to work for you. They just will not be the A Players now working at your competitor.
The Difference Between Motivation and Inspiration
Motivation and inspiration often get used interchangeably, but they’re fundamentally different. Motivation is internal; it has to be self-generated. Inspiration, on the other hand, is external. The wind that pushes the sails or the catalyst that sets a chain reaction into motion. While you can’t inject motivation into someone, you can create an incredibly inspiring environment for motivated people.
Six Pillars of an Inspiring Workplace
1. Don’t Uninspire: Easier Said Than Done
It sounds simple, almost laughably so. But the starting point of inspiring others is to stop doing the things that demotivate them. This isn’t just about avoiding toxic behaviours but actively removing obstacles that diminish enthusiasm. An uninspired team member is unproductive, and no amount of team lunches or motivational speakers will change that.
Examples I have seen are staff surveys with no noticeable impact or follow-up actions by management. Initial response rates will drop from the 80s as cynicism sets in. Last week, a client told us about a new starter whose laptop was there on day one, but IT had yet to get it running in the first week. Crap or no onboarding will uninspire new starters quickly, even if their IT functions correctly. In his book Onboarded, Brad Giles finds data to support that an hour a week for six months with their manager or team leader over and above 1:1s is needed to onboard a new hire successfully.
The miserable sod should never be tolerated. Negative energy is 4 to 5 times more impactful than positive energy. One bad apple does spoil the barrel. The team will do a happy dance when you remove the toxicity from the group.
2. The Purpose-Driven Workspace: Being Part of Something Bigger
People, especially Millennials and Gen Z – but, in my experience, all employees – seek more than just a salary. They want to contribute to a larger mission. Clearly articulate what your organisation stands for, and keep that message consistent. When people feel part of something bigger, they’re not just showing up for a job but becoming part of a movement.
Today, on a call with a senior leader of a tech unicorn, they couldn’t clearly articulate the purpose of their business. They were compelling on what they do but not on why.
Look at the Rockefeller Habit number 7 and score your organisation or team to see where more work is needed.
Execution: Rockefeller Habits Checklist
Habit #7 Core Values and Purpose are “alive” in the organisation.
- Core Values are discovered, Purpose is articulated, and both are known by all employees.
- All executives and middle managers refer back to the Core Values and Purpose when giving praise or reprimands.
- HR processes and activities align with the Core Values and Purpose (hiring, orientation, appraisal, recognition, etc.).
- Actions are identified and implemented each quarter to strengthen the Core Values and Purpose of the organisation.
At Excelsior Mat (excelsiormat.org/our-vision/) in Birmingham, publicly affirming their mission transformed their hiring process. They can’t pay their teachers more, so they only have inspiration to play with. Clearly stating their goal to be at the forefront of innovation in primary education increased the quantity of the CVs they received by 10x and boosted quality. Recently, they received 95 applications to work as a receptionist at one of their schools.
Could your lack of clarity be hurting your recruitment efforts?
3. Streamline for Success: The Devil’s in the Details.
You’d be surprised how much the ‘little things’ matter. Outdated technology, convoluted processes, or an uninspiring workspace are not just minor annoyances but motivation killers. Investing in your team’s work environment is not a cost; it’s an investment in inspiration.
In the early days of Monkhouse & Company, I did some work for a client in their London office. For several months, a light flickered in reception, a few chairs in the boardroom were broken and not repaired, and none of the whiteboard markers worked. In visiting another prospective client, I was dismayed to be left waiting in reception for 30 minutes. However, it did give me time to read the press release folder. Inside, there was no activity newer than 13 months old. We didn’t work together. Finally, I remember visiting Colt Telecom and being warned by my host not to ask for tea or coffee as it was undrinkable.
You do have a decent coffee machine in your office, don’t you? Does everyone have two monitors? You don’t need a slide and a pub, but they are incredible. Does your environment match your ambition or kill it?
4. A Culture of Communication: Open Dialogue and Honest Feedback
The era of the ‘boss knows best’ is over. Today’s inspiring workplaces foster open dialogue, where everyone – from interns to the CEO – is encouraged to share ideas. This creates a culture where people feel valued and heard, which, in turn, inspires them to contribute even more.
Do all employees have a weekly check-in? Data from multiple sources, including Gallup, shows this is the optimum cadence to increase employee engagement and productivity. In a recent conversation with Jim Harter, chief scientist at Gallup, he told me that if the manager or team lead does only one thing in this meeting, it delivers most of the value. That one thing is the delivery of praise for a job well done. This simple suggestion does presuppose that both parties are clear on what was to be done, that this was measured, and that this information is accessible to both in a timely manner. Gallup data shows this is only true in 34% of companies. In your organisation, can all employees answer the question, “I know what’s expected of me at work each day?” and does their team leader or manager check in once a week to say well done?
Richar Sounds receives two team member suggestions per month. How many do you receive inside your organisation? What happens to them? In the weekly executive Level 10 meeting, does each executive team member bring two suggestions for improvement? You need to walk the walk on this…
5. Core Values Aren’t Just Words: Living Your Principles
Core values are not just something you put on your website or a wall in the office. They should be lived daily, serving as a compass for behaviour and decision-making. An organisation that lives its values doesn’t just inspire its current team; it attracts new talent that fits the culture.
When client ETCH (etchuk.com/about-us) discovered its core values and affirmed them as Liberated, Selfless, Audacious and Restless, one executive team member resigned. This wasn’t the organisation where he wanted to be.
6. Authenticity: The Bedrock of Trust
Authenticity isn’t just a buzzword; it’s the foundation of trust. No amount of perks or benefits will compensate for a lack of authenticity. When people feel like they’re part of something real, their level of inspiration – and subsequent motivation – skyrockets.
Implementing an Inspirational Culture: The Next Steps
While knowing the six pillars is important, implementing them makes the difference. Take a critical look at your current culture. Are there elements that are uninspiring? Tackle those first. Next, work on embedding the six pillars into the fabric of your organisation. This isn’t a one-time exercise; it’s an ongoing process.
The Snowball Effect: Why This Matters
When you create an inspiring environment, a magical thing happens. Your team starts to inspire each other. This snowball effect establishes a culture that attracts top talent and retains it. After all, who would want to leave an environment where they feel continually inspired?
Let’s return to where we started: You can’t motivate anyone. But by creating a profoundly inspiring culture, you won’t have to. People will bring their best selves to work, not because they have to, but because they want to. When you inspire your team members, you’re not merely encouraging them to do better; you’re empowering them to become the best versions of themselves. And when that happens, your organisation doesn’t just succeed; it thrives.
So go ahead, be the catalyst. Be the inspiration your team is seeking. Because when you inspire, you’re not merely adding fuel to the fire; you’re lighting a beacon that guides the way for everyone.
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