5 simple ways to motivate your people

By Tiina Huttu
Agile HR, Business & leadership,


Studies show that motivation predicts success better than intelligence, ability or salary. A motivated employee is a productive employee – and a happy one too. That’s why the most critical task leaders have is to motivate their people.

Employees need ownership, influence and responsibility over their work. It’s easier to stay motivated if you feel like you are turning the wheel, not just sitting along for the ride.

It’s also impossible to adhere to a common goal without shared values and a sense of participating on your own terms.

Motivation needs to be ignited on the inside. The tough duty of a leader is to start the fire. And here’s how you do it in five simple steps.

1. Tell a story
Great leaders have always been wise storytellers, inspiring people to act by giving them a reason to do so. Our brain digests meanings from stories infinitely better than from facts or numbers.

Some researchers even claim that a winning job culture resembles a cult: a shared belief or a provocative idea connects the employers on an emotional level. A cult-like culture is created by sharing stories. Stories open the path to emotions and emotions are the key to changing behaviour.

2. Be human about it
It’s easy to share a story in an old, single-family run business, where most people have known each other for years. However, even multi-national corporations need a face in order for employees to empathise with and commit to the company. People are much more likely to take a story to their hearts, when it’s coming from a real person instead of a PowerPoint slide.

3. Celebrate success
Being rewarded is good for motivation. However, an external award only inspires to compete for a prize and doesn’t really add drive towards the work itself.  The most effective way to engage employees is to pay attention to their progress and to enable them to reach the goals that have been set together.

Nothing builds dedication quite like seeing the results of your own work. Management and team-leaders should help the whole workplace to see the fruits of their labour and to make sure that even smaller achievements get the attention they deserve. Recognising all the milestones that have already been reached builds determination. It’s therefore better to regularly toast small wins rather than just occasionally celebrating big wins.

4. Have faith in development
When employees are satisfied, they see goals as challenges and trust that they can find ways to overcome them. If work is too easy, people get bored. On the other hand, feeling helpless is discouraging and paralyzing. The joy of working is the result of having just the right amount of mastery.

To overcome challenges, it helps if employees maintain a positive attitude towards development. Employees who believe they can develop will strive and persevere. That’s why the whole company should nurture a positive attitude towards development and not classify employees based on their current skills and abilities.

5. Dont play the blame game
The responsibility on motivation ultimately belongs to employees themselves. Neither the employee nor the employer should be blamed for a loss of motivation. If the employee’s personality or values conflict heavily with the values of the workplace or the employee cannot see the meaning in their work, a smart employee will seek opportunities elsewhere. After all, the world is full of powerful stories.   

In our blog series of employee motivation, we’ve been previously sharing tips to identify your employees’ motivation, and telling about the importance of bringing love into HR and your organisation. This is the final post of the blog series.


Tiina Huttu
Neurobiologist & science journalist

Tiina Huttu is a neurobiologist and science journalist with her special expertise in brains. She’s been working at the Finnish Science journal, the Finnish Medical Journal and researching the brain development at Helsinki University. Tiina thrives on the complex series of questions of how we grow, thus who we are, whom we can become, and how to do we know what to want.

Tiina Huttu

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