Four Things Great Motivators Do Every Time


My father relayed his first experience learning about motivation. Dad was a young 2nd Lt. right out of school. He was assigned to the 504st ordinance ammunition company. His task was to take big boxes of 105 artillery shells out of the warehouse by forklift, have soldiers put fuses into the shells, and have the forklifts take them back into the warehouse. Dad set up an assembly line. The forklift guys would bring a box of shells to the line, the soldiers placed the fuses and then the forklift guys would take the completed boxes back. According to the army manual, production was on track. An old Warrant Officer casually observed the scene. He watched Dads process with great interest.

The Warrant Officer approached Dad and offered a wager. “I will bet you a gallon of whiskey that I can get twice as much production and have everyone out of here by 3:30.” Dad consulted the manual and it said it could not be done. He took the bet.

At 6am the forklift guys showed up to work and moved 2 x the normal production of ammo out of the warehouse and put it at the front end of the assembly line. Then the forklift guys got the morning and early afternoon off. The soldiers showed up and Warrant Officer said, “as soon as you men finish these boxes of ammo, you can go home for the day.”

The soldiers finished all the production by 3:00pm. The forklift guys showed back up and put all the finished ammo back in the warehouse by 3:30. Production was twice the normal amount and everybody when home a little earlier and a little happier. Dad said that the price of that gallon of whiskey was worth every penny to learn about motivation.

Like the Warrant Officer, great motivators understand a few things:

1) Be an expert on others– If you are a manger, then you are more than likely an expert at what you do.  You were a great producer first.   You may be an expert in your field, or even in management, but you are not an expert on what others want.  The only way to become an expert is to get to know people and make yourself an expert on them.  Ask them what they like.  Ask them what they don’t like. Understand their family situation.  Understand their goals.  If someone asked you “what it the most important thing to each person on your team?”, could you answer the question?

2)  Create incentives individually-  Your effectiveness as a leader is in direct proportion to your willingness to address the needs of individuals on the team. If you are leading a group and the goal of the organization is to produce, don’t always assume that everyone is excited about the same rewards.  Some like money.  Some like time off.  Some like fellowship.  Some like accomplishment.  Some like a public pat on the back.  In the case of the story above, going home from work early might work for the whole group, but for different reasons.  All the soldiers wanted to leave early but not for the same reason.  Some wanted to be with family, some wanted to go work another job for more money, some wanted to beat the record. Everyone is motivated by something, but chances are it is not what motivates you.

3)  Include everyone in the conversation- Two things are true.  People love to hear their own name in conversation and people love to be asked their opinion.  In this case, the Warrant Officer had the answer about how to meet the goal.  He had to be included in the conversation to provide the answer.  If Dad had stomped around and barked orders, the Warrant Officer would have done exactly what he was ordered to do…only what he was ordered to do.  The answer to any problem can be found if you ask enough people.  Some of the input you get will not be helpful, but some of it will be very helpful.  You do not have a choice about the goals.  They are set above your pay grade.  You do have a choice about how you get there.

4) Relationships are the foundation for any motivation. Google spends millions to provide field trips, gym memberships, special celebrations and crazy office games.    All the expensive perks are great for Google but impractical to most.  What those activities create is an opportunity to connect with others and build a relationship.  There are miserable people at Google.  And I would further wager my own bottle of whiskey that those people feel alienated and lack relationships with bosses and peers.  A team of connected people will always outperform independent contractors in the long run.  If you are connected to the people, you are connected to the work.  Have group rewards for group goals as well as individual rewards.

“If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail” -Abraham Maslow  The overall lesson is to know the individuals on the team, customize incentives to their needs, ask for input and make sure that relationships are the center of the conversation.  Everybody is different and everybody is part of the goal.


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