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Make it Personal

Motivate your team

Effective management requires the ability to motivate your team. Which is really hard. Every leadership blog on the internet will remind you that carrots and sticks don’t work, but what does?

Management 101: How to Motivate Your Team

In my experience, making it personal.

“Making it personal” does not mean:

  • Being friends with all of your employees

  • Having feeling sessions on the regular

  • Asking about their new poodle

Making it personal is about recognizing and communicating the value of others’ work. You don’t need to hold an award show or be falsely complimentary to your employees. Instead, you should take an active interest in the effort they put in, and help them understand how it relates to the overall success of the business.

Making it personal is about recognizing and communicating the value of others’ work.

Below are some ways to begin making it personal with your employees today.

Ask your employees what they are working on

Most of my teams work in client facing roles, so I love to ask them “Have you had any good client conversations today?”

This isn’t an interrogation.

It’s a way for me to learn about the work they are doing and it subtly conveys to them what work I find important. After the fifth time of asking, they understand that talking to clients is a key part of their role, and a part that their manager is interested in.

Provide the why

Sometimes I have to put together very boring process instructions for rote activities such as correctly labeling our sales opportunities. I’ve made it a point to always include a “goal” at the beginning of all of these documents.

This outlines why we are creating this process and what benefit it will have to the bigger picture. Not only does this help give meaning to the work, it also forces me not to create meaningless processes.

Take time to meet one-on-one

If you are a boss, you need to have regular meetings with all of your direct reports. This cannot be a once-a-quarter activity, but should be a structured part of your schedule. Most of these meetings will not have a significant impact on the business, and it might be tempting to cancel them frequently when you have “nothing to talk about.”

However, anyone in a relationship (or friendship) can tell you that time spent matters. Show up for your people. Ask them questions and listen to their answers. Acknowledge what they worked on all week. It makes a big difference.

Promote learning

Every so often, one of my employees tells me about their career aspirations or skills they are interested in developing. Whenever I read an article or get invited to a webinar that aligns with those skills, I try to forward it along. If I have a new project where that skill would be useful, I ask them to take the lead.

Your employees are not your robot minions that exist to do your bidding. They have their own objectives, and motivation springs from finding ways those interests tie into their day to day tasks.

Treat them as human

This seems obvious, but it can be hard in a world where headcount is referred to as “resources.” I have to believe there is more to the human experience than productivity.

When they are late to work one day because their train got delayed, give them the benefit of the doubt. When they have a doctor’s appointment, let them leave without questioning them. When they mess up an important client conversation, find empathy for their feelings of failure and insecurity. When they tell you they are going to a new company, congratulate them on getting an offer.

When your employee understands that you want what is best for them as a human and aren’t solely interested in productivity, you’ll end up getting better results with significantly less work.

Give ownership

People do not want to work for you; they want to work for themselves.

Done correctly, this is the single best way to motivate your people. (Incorrectly = dumping your work on other people but still collecting your higher salary.) People do not want to work for you; they want to work for themselves.

This is a great strategy for high potential individuals that are on the cusp of having a bad attitude. I’ve had situations where my most difficult employee turned into a positive force when I promoted them to team lead.


Take a minute and think about the type of work that motivates you. It probably isn’t sitting in a backroom in a redundant department moving boxes back and forth. Instead, you probably get excited about having an impact and knowing that those close to you understand and appreciate your effort.

How can you create those conditions for your direct reports?


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