Improving Workplace Motivation By Understanding Your People's Desires

Workplace motivation comes down to two things: Inspiration and Desperation. Understanding what gets your people out of bed in the morning could be the key to inspiring better performance

Have you read Part One of this workplace motivation series, where we looked at why you can't motivate anyone?

If you want to improve workplace motivation and inspire others to be at their best, there is a piece of psychology that you need to understand fully ...

There are only two things that get people out of bed ... Inspiration or Desperation

Workplace Motivation: Running from Inspiration or Desperation?

When you unravel what gets people to work each day, you hold the keys to getting the best possible performance from them.

So let's start with the first element: Inspiration.

Inspiration Comes From Within

Inspiration comes from identifying compelling reasons (to you), about why you want something, or want to do something.

When you identify those reasons, and they speak deeply to you (inner callings), then you'll have all the inspiration you need to get up and get going.

Examples of inner callings are a desire: 

  • to contribute
  • do meaningful work
  • use my strengths and talents

Once a person aligns him/herself with what a fulfilling life looks like for them, there won't need to be a carrot or a stick in sight!

What inspires you?

Do you have a hobby, a sport, a charity to which you give hours of absorbed attention?

You find yourself on Google finding ways to do whatever it is better.

You spend hours attending events etc ... all without any financial reward.

Right there, is you coming from a place of inspiration. 

For example, my daughter loves Arakan (a martial art). She spends hours outside of her training studying it. She feels compelled to improve her skillset and it gives her huge joy.

You Enable Workplace Motivation Through Believing

When your people are providing discretionary effort - that is liquid gold.  And, discretionary effort all comes down to how well you connect your people to their values and those that the organization holds dear. 

Use the 4Bs of high-performance model: Believing, Belonging, Behaving, and Bottom-line to drive people's feelings of inspiration and their discretionary effort.

4Bs of high-performance

Believing is crucial to shifting into the Inspiration space. Your direct leadership dictates how much an individual believes in the organization, believes in the impact of their role, believes in and trusts their leadership team, and believes that they can pass the rocking chair test ... "I made good use of my life."  And, you don't always have to be working in a 'sexy' organization with a high profile to inspire people to believe in what they do and the impact they have.

Nothing is Inspiring About Working in a Detergent Factory

Here's an example. Think of people who work within organizations like Greenpeace, Amnesty, Apple, Google, Harley Davidson. The work they do, the company they work for, all compel them to provide huge amounts of discretionary effort. And, here's the deal - the vast majority of us don't work in these 'aspirational' type organizations.

Mark my words, inspiring Believing can be challenging when you are working, and leading in a dusty, hot factory producing detergent powder. There is nothing inspiring about producing detergent powder so people can do their washing. Especially when you're working in 50-degree celsius heat (122 F). 

Yet, in my experience, as People & Culture Leader at Colgate-Palmolive, we did a pretty good job of getting people Believing in the role the organization could play in helping them achieve their hopes and dreams. Believing in the impact they could have on themselves, their teammates, and their families. 

You see, there's plenty you can do around helping individuals identify the things that energize and call them to walk with a spring in their step.  

Even in a dusty, hot factory, you can get workplace motivation at its peak, by helping people to connect with their inner need to make a dent in the universe.

While our team at Colgate-Palmolive had pride in the product we produced, we focused people's attention on their personal and individual growth as we discovered how to be the best in the world at it.

And the truth is, we got this a little bit right, but we also left a lot on the table.

Be a Leader that Inspires

Roadblock: Unfortunately, many people don't spend time thinking about how the 90,000+ hours they'll spend at work, will be a good use of their time on this planet! You'd be foolish not to think that what you do for work, and how you show up as you do it, informs the legacy that is your life.

I'm not sure too many people leave work and totally shrug off their 'work persona' before stepping through the front door and turning into 'family persona'. People take their work experiences, stresses, and joys back into their family and community life. We have to accept that what happens at work influences so much more of our life. 

So, when you're in your 90's sitting in a rocking chair - what do you want to say about your life?

Do you want to say, "I went to work in a factory. And it was crap. I was miserable."  

Or do you want to be able to say, "I worked in a factory - that made detergent powder, and that was great. But what I'm really proud of is that we learned a whole bunch of skills that enabled us to work together really well and I brought those skills home. I'm a stronger, clearer individual, because of the time I spent at work. And that has had a powerful, positive impact on my family."

Unfortunately, most people feel trapped in life and have stopped thinking about what fulfills them. They drag themselves to work, to get the money they need, to do the things they love. A rockstar leader can shift this.  It is your role to get your people (and yourself) thinking about how they want to show up and live the vast majority of their waking hours. 

Workplace Motivation can be self-propelling

Do You Want to be a Rockstar Leader?

As a leader you can powerfully influence your community through the quality of conversations and thinking you encourage in your people. To improve workplace motivation and enhance the quality of life for yourself and your people, spend time asking your team members:

  • What do you love to do?
  • What would the best workday look like to you?
  • When do you know you are shining?
  • What are your strengths that we aren't tapping in to?
  • When you leave work, what energy do you want to take into your family? How do we make that happen?
  • What would you like to be able to say about your working life, when you're sitting in a rocking chair at age 90?

Once they have gotten clear on their strengths and how they want to make an impact, then help them design into their job regular opportunities to do those things. Download the Ideal Job Template as this will help you have conversations with your people.

In the training, "How To Motivate Employees" (this program is currently undergoing a rewrite and will be available soon) you'll discover many tips and ideas on how to motivate and inspire others and lead them to discover what fulfills them ... without having to re-structure your entire workplace or spend hours upon hours with H.R!

In Summary

People who are inspired come from a mindset of, "I want to do this. I choose to do this. This is my idea. I love this. This is what I want to do."

Being inspired doesn’t mean people won't want to be rewarded ... they certainly will. However, their greatest reward comes from the satisfaction of working in a particular company and/or doing the role/task at hand ... not the money attached to doing the job.

The more you can help your people to find those inner callings that inspire them to give their best; the better the vibe in your team.

For Long-Term Passion ... 

Sizzle, Energy, and Motivation Must Come From Within the Individual

Now let's take a look at why desperation gets your people to work ... working but probably not performing at a high level.

Related Articles


Part 1


Part 3


Part 4


Part 5


Part 6

Have Your Say

More Resources to Support Your 'Rockstar' Leadership Career

Become a Member

Access all the ebooks, checklists, templates and other resources in the gated area of the Make A Dent Club

Personal Development

Access 60+ free resources to help you shine. From emotional intelligence to mindset to understanding others

Improve Teams

Access 20+ articles on how to shift your team from performing to high-performing. These are proven techniques and tips

Influencing Others

From dealing with difficult people, to resolving conflict, to building stronger relationships, all the resources you need are here


Resources and articles to help you shift from being a good to a 'Rockstar' leader. Over 20 resources waiting to inspire you to new levels of performance

Culture & Change

Your team's culture is at the heart of your business performance. Designed to help you lead organizational culture change 

Templates & Checklists

Speed up your productivity and implementation with these checklists and templates


Visit the store to purchase the ebooks, e-courses that take you to another level


Quizzes and self-assessments to help you track your progress and where you need to focus