The Center for Sales Strategy Blog

What Lights Your Fire? 6 Tips for Employee Motivation

My family and I installed a gas fireplace over the winter, and seeing our first gas fire ignite so easily got me thinking about the different ways managers “light a fire” under someone and get them motivated to work. Does it require extensive labor or is it more like flipping a specific switch or turning just the right key?

It’s not just one switch or just one key that ignite fires in each of them. Everybody’s different.

One of the many answers I want to uncover about someone when I interview him or her is why they want to work. What makes them want to get out of bed and come to work every day? Beyond just “showing up,” what drives them to get out there and sell, and when it gets tough, what drives them to keep going, even double their effort?

It is not as easy as turning a key, but understanding how each person is motivated is essential!


Different Motivation Levels: Why Do People Go to Work?

1. To pay the bills. 

Sometimes people work only because they need to. They do not get a great sense of joy or fulfillment out of working – they do it simply to feed their family. Necessity is their motivation. Nothing more.

How to manage this type of employee: When managing this meager level of motivation, set clear and specific expectations. Provide due dates and deadlines. Always ask about their “next steps” and leave no room for miscommunication. Hold tight on accountability.

2. To have a good time and be social. 

Some people like having fun at work. Interacting with colleagues, prospects, and clients motivates them. Are these people fun? Absolutely. Are they motivated? Sort of.

How to manage this type of employee: This seller wants to be friends with everyone and is likely a people pleaser. Capitalize on that by emphasizing what you want them to do with how it will make them liked, loved, or popular. You can tell them people are “counting on them” when you need an extra push. Make sure they have a business goal for every call and every meeting. When possible, and as a reward, put them in charge of the next company happy hour.

3. To keep doing better and better!

Some people push themselves to do a little more and they strive to work a little harder or smarter. They want to be the best possible version of themselves and they are willing to go above and beyond what is comfortable to achieve their level of success. Motivated? Absolutely!

How to manage this type of employee: Your best strategy here is to ask how this person defines success and what good money looks like. Ask career-building questions such as: Where do they see themselves in one year? In three years? What does success look like and feel like? How will they measure their success? How much money is good money? Knowing where they are trying to go will open up a world of opportunity to you as their manager. You will be able to support them, help them create a plan, and add some stretch to their goals when necessary.

4. To be the best.

Some people are obsessed with numbers. They keep score, measure, and track their performance. Competition is their motivator.  As long as they can keep identifying others who are doing better than they are, it fuels them to reach beyond what they’ve achieved before and grab for something bigger, something more.

How to manage this type of employee: Keep this employee informed about how they’re being measured. How are you keeping score? What does a win on your team look like? Use benchmarks, measurements, and scorecards. Challenge them by saying “I bet you can…” and “no one else has been able to …” and “you are x percent away from ____.” Get specific!

5.To be the superstar.

For some, it is not enough to know they are winning. They need recognition and accolades. Benchmarks and numbers motivate them for sure – but they’re also motivated by the thrill of the impossible and winning. Sound intense? It is!

How to manage this type of employee: Think of these sellers as your special “divas.” They have enormous talent, but it comes with enormous ego. They need a lot of attention, so make sure they are noticed. Watch their performance, sit in the front row, tell them exactly what you saw and what you liked, then watch them deliver another sold-out show.

6. To serve others.

Some sellers are truly motivated by helping people. They are sincere and empathetic and gain an intense level of satisfaction from solving their clients’ problems.  They are driven to provide value and pride themselves on excellent customer service. Day after day they strive to deliver and over-deliver.  Nothing gets them going more than a prospect or a client who’s got challenges to meet and beat. 

How to manage this type of employee: This sellerneeds to know what’s in it for their clients. Your coaching should always focus on how they can help others. Frame anything you want them to do in terms of how it will benefit their clients. Talk to them about ways to be a hero for their client. Show them additional ways to provide value and how to help others reach their goals. If you find them hesitating, talk about the results their clients are likely to see.

People are so different!  It would be a mistake to think that what motivates one is the same as what motivates or another—or that what motivates the manager is the same as what motivates those they manage. Some people are able to light their own fire, and as managers, we need to fan that flame. Others who are not highly motivated naturally will need a bit more support to maintain an adequate level of motivation.

Knowing exactly what you are dealing with is vital. You don’t want to be left out in the cold. Ask questions. Find out what lights their fire, get specific, and create a solid management plan for individuals you look after.

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