To improve motivation speedily we need a quick and painless way of finding out what makes people tick. I recommend producing a very simple questionnaire which asks:

What aspect of your job do you most enjoy? What aspect of your job do you least enjoy? What aspect of your job would you most like to see stay the same?

Print them out and make sure each team member gets a copy. You may need to explain that you’re looking at ways to improve motivation and that the starting point is getting a better idea of what makes them tick.

I like to ask people to put their names on the sheets to encourage some ownership, but you can do it anonymously if you think you’ll get a more honest response.

If you think issuing questionnaires is a bit heavy handed, pop the questions on a flip chart or white board and have an open team discussion around them. Alternatively if there’s a scheduled performance review or appraisal coming up, factor the questions into your one to one discussions.

In any event you’ll be gathering valuable information about levels and types of motivation in the team which you can use to develop a long-term approach. But I gave my undertaking that this tip would improve motivation immediately and it will. Here’s how it works: By asking people questions you’ll be paying them attention and you’ll benefit from the ‘Hawthorne effect’ Perhaps the most famous experiments in motivation were carried our by management researcher Elton Mayo and his team at the Western Electric Company’s Hawthorne plant in Chicago. Between 1924 and 1932, five sets of tests were conducted in an attempt to understand what made workers assembling telephone equipment more productive. To begin with the experiments concentrated on improvements to lighting. Productivity indeed improved, but it also improved when the lights were dimmed. This seemingly peculiar result was also returned in other experiments which considered supervision, pay incentives and rest periods. Mayo advanced two theories.

He firstly suggested that the very fact of being involved in an experiment encouraged the workers to be more productive. It created interest and involvement in their repetitive work, and their managers began taking an interest in how they felt. Mayo also theorised that social interaction had a critical effect on motivation; the experiment itself was bringing workers together in teams with a positive relationship with a supervisor.In any event it seemed the workers simply appreciated the change the experiments brought about, felt more valued and generally happier and thus their performance improved. So just by issuing your questionnaire you’re showing that you’re taking an interest in your people and that you value their contribution. You should see results improve even if you did nothing more.

This questioning approach lies at the heart of management by coaching. If you embrace the coaching role you’ll be paying this sort of quality attention to your staff every working day. The improvements that follow can be quite staggering. With coaching as the prevailing style you can ensure a constant level of motivation, not just the quick fillip provided by waving the carrot or the stick.

Matt Somers has been training managers as coaches since 1996. His learning and experience in this field have resulted in two excellent books, Coaching at Work (2006) and Instant Manager: Coaching (2008) For further FREE resources, please visit:

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