How to Motivate Your Staff: a Toolkit

Dan Pink’s book ‘Drive, The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us’, has started a quiet revolution in the field of personal and staff…

Carrot and Stick Motivation is Dead! Long Live the Purpose Driven Business

Dan Pink’s book ‘Drive, The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us’, has started a quiet revolution in the field of personal and staff motivation. Dan shows that older ‘carrot and stick’ style of motivation just don’t work very well and in the modern workplace a new motivational theory is required; Motivation 3.0. Dan draws on science; case study and hard fact to argue that what people need to not only be motivated but also STAY motivated (the Holy Grail) are three things:

1. Autonomy. The ability to be self directed (to a degree) to make decisions to take ownership.

2. Mastery. An opportunity to grow; to grow one’s skills, to grow oneself

3. Meaning and Purpose. The desire to do something that is bigger than the simple need to make money.

It’s a fantastic step forward, but the obvious challenge facing business owners, managers and senior leaders like us is, how do I apply it in the real world, how do we make it practical?

In my experience the vast majority of us haven’t ever really contemplated what gives our lives meaning and purpose. Very few of us have ever really taken time to sit and think in a clear, constructive way, what gives us a sense of purpose and more importantly, how to bring that to our day-to-day work.

We can hardly make this model work for our teams or ourselves if we haven’t got a practical tool to do this!

So in that spirit of practicality I am going to add to Dan’s work two powerful, practical stepping stones that will ensure that all of us are crystal clear on what gives us a sense of meaning and purpose AND a framework to apply it to our roles, whether we are employee, manager, owner of CEO.

Step 1 Daily Meaning Uncovered

In Tal Ben Shahar’s book ‘Happier’, he runs us through a powerful exercise, it goes something like this.

Firstly, get some time to yourself—at least an hour—where you will be undisturbed and all you will need is a pen and paper.

Next write a list of all the things that give you a sense of meaning in your life (Tal describes these as long term happiness drivers). Let me help you a little with some personal examples (and you should be able to write a list of 25 things, minimum):





Helping Others

Building Value Based Businesses


Being in nature



Next, write a list of things that give you pleasure, which Tal describes as daily or immediate happiness drivers. Here are a handful of mine, but try and come up with at least 25 for yourself.

Hanging out with my two daughters, they are hilarious


Riding my push bike

Riding my motorbike


Teaching this work to business people

A good chocolate biscuit


Sex and a good chocolate biscuit

An outstanding Indian meal at a restaurant

A powerful movie or funny movie

You get the drift.

Finally, write down your strengths. This means ditching the ‘humble hat’ and looking at that vast array of gifts you have bundled up inside your body, spirit and mind. I might write:



Great teacher

Amazing communicator

Terrific sense of humour

I’m funny

I’m a brilliant Dad

I’m courageous

I’ve followed the road less travelled

Great Mentor

Now, this is when it gets interesting. Merge those three lists like a Venn diagram and look for the overlaps (see the diagram below for illustration). You want to spot those things that come up, possibly written in slightly different ways, but come up in all three lists or in two out of three.

What this final short list does, is it gives you a much clearer idea of what gives you a sense of purpose and meaning. Not only that, it also illustrates whether your strengths are being focused in the right direction or not being utilized at all.

When I first did this exercise 90% of my time was focused on sales and marketing tasks, not on mentoring, teaching, learning and writing; so change had to take place.

I have run this process with all kinds of business people and the number 1 realization that many have is that what they are doing right now for work bears no resemblance to what fulfils them, what gives them a sense of meaning, or even fully utilizes their strengths.

And that’s okay. Sometimes we are in completely the wrong role and no wonder we’re so damned unhappy!

BUT, and this is a huge BUT. There is a way to take your present situation and rebuild it to genuinely have a role that provides that greater sense of meaning and purpose you crave.

Enter onto the stage Amy Wrzesniewski. Amy is based at Yale School of Management and with her colleague Jane Dutton they have created an amazing process to help us all find more meaning in what we do.

The results of their research showed that it is not the work that we do that was important to our motivation but , in fact, how we perceived that work that had such a profound impact on morale, engagement, productivity and overall happiness.

They looked at two sets of hospital cleaners in identical roles in identical hospitals. One group described their roles pretty much as written by their job descriptions, their morale wasn’t great, productivity was average and they had their fair share of sick leave.

The next group of cleaners described (therefore perceived) their roles very differently. They believed they were the foundation upon which the hospital was built. They saw themselves as key members of the medical team and they often talked to patients on their daily round because they knew the patients were more open with them than they were with the doctors. They would pass on any relevant concerns back to the medical staff. In short they saw themselves as an invaluable part of the medical service the hospital provided.

It doesn’t take a genius to work out the effect this perception had on the quality of their work, their morale and productivity and their levels of engagement. Perception according to Amy and Jane is critical.

Step 2 — Building That Meaning into Your Role

So, going back to Tal’s exercise, if you’re very fortunate and there’s only a tiny gap between your results from the ‘meaning, pleasure, strengths’ exercise and your present role, please still do this next piece from Amy Wrzesniewski. It’s called job crafting.

Job crafting is the practical step you take to help you and your team build meaning and purpose into your day-to-day working life and transform your perception of what you do and WHY you do it. Amy and her colleagues describe it as “..what employees do to redesign their own jobs in ways that foster engagement at work, job satisfaction, resilience and thriving” (Berg, Wrzesniewski and Dutton 2010).

Now note, this not about re-writing a job description so the tasks, responsibilities and so on go out the window completely. It’s about taking the existing framework and adding an additional layer of depth.

There are three main elements, try one or two out that would suit you and/or your team:

Firstly, task crafting. With your own of your employees’ tasks, can they be re-crafted to add an additional layer of meaning. For me I began to teach some of the skills I acquired in sales and marketing to other entrepreneurs, this gave me a huge sense of meaning and satisfaction and actually encouraged me to continue to develop my own sales and marketing skills. It also helped build our business and create additional revenue streams.

The second element Amy describes as relational crafting. It’s a way for individuals to change the form, number, type and intensity of relationships they have on the job and change the style of interactions in ways that improve the level of meaning in their work. In software developer Menlo Innovations two staff share one computer, thus encouraging sharing, innovation and communication. Those pairs are changed every seven days; this keeps the idea flow fresh, has massively improved morale and happiness levels and encouraged relationship building between typically siloed roles (for example sales and marketing versus engineering or legal).

The final element is cognitive crafting. It’s about looking at our tasks in a different way, actively bringing more personal meaning to our day-to-day work and fundamentally changing the perception of what we do, much like that second group of cleaners.

There are many things I do that are tedious or challenging, just like you. I am not one of natures natural word-smiths…. These written words did not trip off my MAC like a flow of beautifully executed Jazz notes. No, they are wrung out of me like water from an Olympic divers teeny towel.

However, my mission, what gives me meaning, is always in my mind. I want people to know that happier businesses are more profitable AND that no one need burn out, suffer in silence or become ill to run one or create one. Ease and grace is a valid business strategy and that makes the writing easier and the task more fulfilling.

So if you want to transform your business, reduce your management stress and improve your profitability, harness what is already there by using these two powerful steps to building meaning and purpose into your daily business lives.

In my next post, I’ll tackle what I like to call ‘practical autonomy’.

Originally published at

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