Team Motivation Myths

Myths About Team Motivation

10 myths about motivating others you should know

As critical as it is to develop a highly motivated team, many organizations fail miserably at achieving those goals.

Motivating others can be challenging, especially if you are uncertain about what actually motivates people and what doesn't.

It is true that the techniques for motivating and influencing others can seem complex when first evaluated. And, many aspects of team motivation can only be achieved indirectly - by generating the proper environments - since people actually motivate themselves.

The processes are further complicated by the diverse array of personalities and behaviors we must deal with as we go about conducting our daily business. But, there are common threads of behavior, which, once understood, can be applied to improve the outcomes of our relationships and become successful at having the ability to influence and motivate those groups of individuals with whom we interact.

The following articles address some of the myths and misconceptions, which have pervaded our thoughts regarding how to motivate, inspire and influence others.

Myth #1. Everyone can be motivated

It is actually impossible to directly motivate other people, just like it is impossible to empower other people or cause them to become more engaged. Motivation, engagement and empowerment can only come from within; not from any external source. But, we can successfully influence and inspire others indirectly by generating the most motivating and positive environment possible.

There are, in fact, proven strategies, which serve as motivational catalysts, and when implemented properly, have demonstrated a capacity to double the levels of engagement and motivation in the majority of individuals. These same techniques can be applied successfully to influence, inspire and motivate others, regardless of whether they are internal team members or people outside our organizations, such as suppliers and customers.

Even though we can exercise no "direct" control over the motivation levels of other people, we do have the ability to use our "sphere of influence" to create relationships and environments, whereby people become more inspired, motivated and empowered. This would include improving our communication and interpersonal skills, positioning people in the right roles, as well as establishing all the supporting systems and strategies which combine to trigger heightened levels of motivation in most individuals.

In addition, while we recognize that the vast majority of people are indeed motivated by "something," and are usually motivated toward some form of goals for their life, we must, also, learn to accept that not everyone will become motivated in a way that aligns with the goals and values of our organizations - regardless of what we do. Some individuals simply will not be a good fit with their role or their organization. And, when that alignment does not evolve, despite our best efforts, it is usually best to pursue other options, for the sake of everyone involved. This generally holds true, regardless of whether we wish to influence and motivate our managers, employees, suppliers or even our customers.

While implementing these strategies will not guarantee that every individual will become fully engaged and inspired, it does guarantee that everyone who truly wishes to achieve their full potential and wants to contribute to their own and their organization's success, has the maximum incentives and opportunities to do so. That is the best any organization can hope to achieve. And the balance of individuals; those who despite the proper environment and support do not, or cannot, become fully engaged should, frankly, be addressed accordingly - and with very little delay.

Despite acknowledging not every individual will become high motivated, any organization can create an atmosphere whereby motivation is nurtured and promoted to the maximum degree possible, such that it becomes a natural outcropping of the environment in which everyone operates. And that process does result in obtaining the highest potential levels of engagement and motivation possible.

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Myth #2. employees are usually motivated to help themselves and their employers succeed

Three decades of research shows that less than one-third of employees in the "average business" are fully engaged and motivated to even help themselves succeed, let alone work to help their employers grow and prosper.

So, what is going on in these businesses with the other two-thirds of employees?

Employee Engagement Study

The unfortunate answer is, this same research shows that the over two-thirds of remaining employees fall into two additional groups. These two groups are classified as either "unengaged employees," which includes those individuals that are just putting in their time and doing only enough to get by on a daily basis; or, "actively disengaged employees," who consume the majority of their time complaining, spreading poisonous propaganda and undermining the productivity of their fellow employees.

The 30-year study, conducted by Gallup, was initially targeted at identifying the common characteristics of the most successful, vibrant and growth-oriented organizations. It included polls of more than 1 million employees and covered metrics from a broad range of business sizes, types and configurations. Ultimately, it revealed some very interesting information about the relationships between employee engagement and the success of most organizations.

The resulting data overwhelmingly demonstrates that the majority of employees, (in the majority of companies), lack the engagement, motivation, drive, efficiency and productivity required to help their organizations become more successful.

And, yet, within the smaller percentage of businesses considered to be "world-class," (in quality, customer service, profitability and rate of growth); a much higher percentage of motivated, engaged and efficient teams of employees comprised the essential foundations for their elevated levels of success - in every instance.

Surprisingly, in those "world-class" organizations the percentage of motivated and engaged employees was typically double that of the "average" business. (You can see the data sets of employee engagement depicted in the adjacent graph, where over 67% of employees in "world-class" businesses are engaged and motivated verses less than 33% for the "average" business.) This clearly demonstrates that these "world-class" companies were finding ways to motivate their employees at much higher levels than their more "average" counterparts.

   After so many years of struggling to get our team on the same page, it’s refreshing to see such a dramatic shift in attitude. – Kathy P, General Manager, Dental Lab


In the study, clear links were established between employee engagement, (including employee motivation and productivity), and the resulting levels of customer satisfaction associated with these organizations. And, because customer satisfaction is the single most critical factor contributing to increased sales volumes, rates of growth and profitability, there is substantial evidence for a direct correlation between team motivation, and organizational success.

Furthermore, those organizations which had a higher percentage of motivated employees not only gained the benefits noted above but they also realized improved employee safety and wellness, greater team harmony, lower absenteeism and reduced turn-over ratios. These somewhat less tangible benefits are, nevertheless, significant in improving productivity and reducing expenditures related to employee benefits, training and retention - which are usually considerable. So, these were additional factors contributing to superior profitability - from both a revenue generation and cost containment perspective.

These studies validate the importance of employee motivation for achieving customer satisfaction, growth and profitability.

So, to perpetuate their market dominance, "world-class" organizations are obviously doing everything they can to maintain a highly motivating environment - one that fosters high levels of engagement from their employees - and they are providing ongoing training and support to help their teams continue to develop the knowledge and skills they need to succeed. In return, their organizations achieve superior levels of success.

The good news is, and statistics reveal, if they choose to do so, any organization, regardless of its size or type of operation, can achieve "world class" results.

That means you, too, can literally transform everything about your business in significant, meaningful and tangible ways - develop a high percentage of engaged, motivated, happy and productive teams of employees - and begin the process of becoming the growth oriented and prosperous enterprise you always dreamed about!

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Myth #3. Team motivation plays no direct role in marketing, lead generation and sales

In reality, the three primary revenue generating disciplines of any successful business; marketing, lead generation and sales are entirely dependent on influence and motivation. And, they are critical from several perspectives.

Ultimately, any healthy revenue generating program depends on achieving three things - building trust and credibility, developing relationships, and influencing the individuals making the purchasing decisions in positive ways. When these three elements are combined in the proper fashion everyone wins. The customer's needs are fulfilled and the organization gains revenue as well as an opportunity to build a stronger relationship.

A great marketing and lead generating program uses the knowledge of a potential or existing customer's needs and desires, along with an understanding of the related emotional and psychological triggers, to lead that client toward making a purchasing decision which will favor the selling organization. As such, the seller must develop products and services that fulfill the customer's needs and develop the appropriate strategy to connect with their customer in ways that are both compelling and logical. And, every aspect of that process requires taking incremental steps that influence and motivate clients toward making the best possible purchasing decision.

One important motivational component of the marketing, lead generation and sales process is recognizing that fully engaged and motivated employees are much more likely to impact customer relationships in positive ways. And it has been repeatedly demonstrated that employee motivation is a major factor for increasing levels of customer satisfaction and repeat sales.

However, there is an even more important facet of motivation that should be considered when it comes to improving the relationships between businesses and their customers and increasing sales revenue. It is the ability to influence and motivate customers during the selling process.

For any business to grow and prosper, the first "team" your business must be able to influence and motivate is your team of customers. Motivating customers is fundamental to closing sales, and therefore, to the growth and profitability of the business. No organization can afford to miss opportunities to motivate customers toward the purchase of its products and services. So, learning how to close more sales becomes critical to survival.

All too frequently, however, we lose sales because we fail to make a solid case for a purchasing decision. If we do not fully engage the client from the context of their individual personality and behavior comfort zones, we erode most of our opportunities to influence the customer's decision making process. And, that is precisely where DISC profiling can have an enormously positive impact.

Regardless of whether our businesses cater to private individuals or large corporations we still communicate and interface with people - real human-beings with their own unique personalities and preferences. So, we must first develop an ability to interact at an effective human and emotional level to "motivate" them in ways that are conducive for these customers to remain engaged in an exchange of ideas, discover their needs and develop solutions - because it is people; people with emotions, personal styles and preferences, who make all purchasing decisions.

Therefore, we must develop an understanding of the various emotional and psychological styles people exhibit, and be able to adapt our marketing and selling approach to accommodate individual needs. That, in turn, will allow us to engage with, capture and hold the client's attention long enough to make a compelling argument for the benefits of our product or service. Otherwise, no sale can, or will, result.

   Today, everything has changed. I've doubled my sales. I'm working fewer hours... – Martin P., Independent Insurance Agent / Broker


Everyone involved in the act of selling, and everyone making purchasing decisions, can, and often will, exhibit dramatically different DISC personality and behavior profiles. That means they have their own preferences for communication styles, as well as preferences for how (and how much) information they believe is relevant to the decision-making process. And, that is where developing the skills and abilities to adapt to different DISC behavioral profiles is critical to any successful selling strategy.

A significant portion of maintaining client focus during any sales cycle is making sure we help the client feel comfortable with the interactions. If a client is not comfortable with the salesperson and the resulting interaction, they will not be "motivated" to continue engaging in the selling process.

Another critical factor is providing the specific information they want and need to make an intelligent decision, in the fashion they prefer. Depending on their individual DISC behavior and style, they may want a lot of detail or very little. They may prefer a faster pace or one that is more contemplative. And, there are a variety of additional behavioral preferences which can be accommodated to improve the selling process.

We can greatly enhance sales, and the overall selling process, simply by understanding how different customers (i.e., different personality types) behave and make decisions. In fact, there are several DISC behavioral and style preferences which we need to be able to accommodate. And, when we do, we will be more successful at matching client's unique profile and needs. It's all part of having the opportunity to motivate and influence the client long enough to successfully close more sales.

Understanding and adapting to a client's unique needs helps you develop greater rapport and establish a stronger relationship with your client. This, in turn, opens the door to a more vigorous, open and honest discussion about your products and services. Ultimately, it helps clients make informed decisions. And, in sales, those are exactly the advantages you need to grow your revenues and prosper your business.

Fortunately, learning about DISC personality and behavior preferences and adapting your sales strategy to accommodate the client's preferred behavior style is fairly simplistic - and the results can be quite dramatic.

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Myth #4. Motivating employees is too complex

People are complex, without a doubt, and they are motivated in different ways. But, the overall process for creating a "motivational" environment is not inherently complex or difficult - if it is approached in a systematic fashion.

The process must be structured and deliberate and it must incorporate several critical elements to function effectively. It simply will not evolve by accident or without effort. However, once achieved, it literally changes everything within the organization in extremely positive ways and requires significantly less oversight than attempting to manage a team of unmotivated employees.

Many organizations fail to view the motivational process as being multidimensional in context, and consequently they obtain less-than-stellar results. To be successful, the environment we create must be structured such that a foundation can be laid which covers the basic guidelines and procedures, while the individual elements remain "flexible" enough to readily adapt to every individual and situation.

A compliment of systems, strategies and interpersonal communication skills can be developed and layered together to form a unified network of interconnected programs. In fact, it is only through this layered approach that a business is able to cultivate a balanced environment where each individual gains access to the specific motivational criteria they need to help them become more successful and at the same time help the organization grow and prosper.

The good news is; all this can be accomplished in a rather straight forward fashion. There are sets of established systems, strategies and techniques which have proven to be effective for generating a highly motivating environment. Better still, they work in any type of business with only minor adaptations.

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Myth #5. If I just treat people like I would want to be treated they will be motivated

This is the "Golden Rule" philosophy for motivating people; “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

While the "Golden Rule" approach sounds good in theory, it is much too narrow in scope to be effective. It erroneously assumes all people are exactly like you. If that were true, everyone would have the same needs, share the same attitudes, prefer the same communication style, exhibit the same gratification modes and seek the same outcomes.

   It was interesting to note how changing our management styles and modifying the way we communicated with our employees could have such a positive impact in such a short period of time. – Howard R., Owner, Office Cleaning & Janitorial Services


In reality, everyone is different - in meaningful and significant ways. Being different does not make one person good and the other bad. Nor, does it make one better and the other worse. It simply means that everyone is different and is, therefore, inspired, empowered and motivated in different ways. It's what makes us unique. It's why certain individuals are better and more effective in specific roles.

Diversity is a good thing. But, we need that diverse population to work together effectively. And, working together effectively requires strategies and skills that will motivate every unique individual to realize their full potential. Treating everyone the same will not accomplish that goal. Because people are unique, they must be treated differently to become fully motivated and engaged.

Thankfully, there is a better rule for motivating others - we'll call it the "Diamond Rule." The "Diamond Rule" states; “Do unto others as THEY would prefer to be done unto.” In other words, treat others as they personally desire and prefer to be treated.

When we accommodate the individuality of others, they are much more likely to become highly motivated and productive. But, at the same time, we all understand this must be accomplished while maintaining the commonality of purpose that is required to function as a successful organization.

When structured properly, utilizing a comprehensive network of strategies and skills, businesses can indeed develop a systematic process, which can accommodate the subtle variations that are required to enable every individual to seek and find their own levels of inspiration, while maintaining continuity of organizational goals and purpose.

It requires education and training, as well as the implementation of targeted strategies to develop the proper approach, but all this is readily attainable and well within the grasp of every organization.

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Myth #6. Money and rewards are the best motivators for employees

If money and rewards are such great motivators, why aren’t people more and more motivated as they get more and more money?

While "inadequate" compensation and benefit levels are recognized as major factors in causing employees to lose motivation and to seek other employment; adding more than a "fair" level of these incentives does not effectively increase motivation in the majority of employees.

Some organizations offer ever-increasing incentives, such as: higher pay, bonuses, a nicer office, more retirement benefits, increased job security, etc.; in the desperate hope that their teams will respond in positive ways. But, these incentives usually lose their capacity to motivate people shortly after they are awarded. It doesn't take long for the effects to dissipate, and in very short order those same individuals begin to feel "entitled."

There are, however, many things an employer can do to create a highly motivating environment in their workplace, and most cost little to nothing to implement. In fact, when many thousands of employees across our nation were polled about what motivates them the most, money and similar incentives were nowhere near the top of the list.

In order of priority, here are their responses:

  1.   Recognition for a "job well done."
  2.   Opportunity for growth and advancement.
  3.   Sense of purpose and the opportunity to “make a difference.”
  4.   Clear goals that are attainable and measurable.
  5.   Ability to innovate and have management consider their ideas.
  6.   Responsibility and trust that they will do their job well.
  7.   Freedom to work “their way” to complete the required tasks.
  8.   Consistent feedback to help them understand and improve their performance.
  9.   Flexibility in determining their schedules and activities.
  10.   Clarity about company objectives and employer expectations.
  11.   Fair compensation and reasonable benefits.

As you can see, "fair" levels of compensation and "reasonable" benefits do play a role in motivation, but employees feel other factors are much more significant.

So, one of the best motivational strategies is to provide "fair" levels of compensation and benefits, so people are not "de-motivated," and then establish programs which address the important elements employees clearly identify as the things they want and need the most to become highly motivated and productive.

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Myth #7. Fear and intimidation are great employee motivators

The flip side of using incentives to motivate employees is an attempt to force certain employee behaviors by creating a "threatening" environment; where theoretically, "fear of something" or "intimidation from someone" serves as a "motivator."

Fear and intimidation can be great motivators - but only for a short period of time. As soon as the opportunity presents itself, those individuals who feel intimidated, demeaned, threatened, or stressed by their situation will either leave the organization or will require constant monitoring (and/or more threats) to maintain even a remote appearance of being "motivated." And, no one who is subjected to these environments will ever be fully productive and self-motivated contributors to their organization's success. In fact, whenever the purveyor of this environment is not around to perpetuate the threat, productivity invariably falls to such low levels that any "temporary benefits" are more than offset by the negative consequences.

Fear and intimidation will always fall well short of effectively developing the characteristics that promote positive team behavior. Consequently, successful leaders never attempt to implement these counterproductive and destructive philosophies.

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Myth #8. Getting highly motivated people for each job position is next to impossible

The process of building a high performance, highly motivated team is far from impossible. But it must begin with attracting, hiring and positioning the "right" employees in the "right" job functions.

In most organizations, employees are hired for, and/or promoted to, positions based primarily on their previous experience or expertise - or simply because they performed well in their last position. And, on the surface, that approach to employee positioning seems well-founded. However, success in one position is no guarantee of success in another; and skills, which can be developed through experience, are no match for innate talent and natural abilities.

For instance; a person with a high type "I" (Influence) DISC profile will usually have a natural talent for communicating and influencing others. Therefore, they would normally excel in a sales or marketing position, but are unlikely to be highly detail and task-oriented. It would be the rare exception for an "I" personality type to enjoy a role where they are sitting behind a desk, isolated from other people - performing tax audits, for example.

And the converse is true as well. A type "C" DISC type personality would normally be well-suited to a role like tax auditing. They are generally people who are meticulous with detail. But, they are unlikely to be very people-oriented. They simply would not normally be comfortable interfacing with and attempting to influence clients in a sales environment.

   While it did require a few personnel adjustments... get the right mix of people and to gain the levels of cooperation we wanted, our group is actually working together like a well-tuned team for the first time ever. – Brian R., Managing Director, Accounting Firm


In fact, for every role or position there is a DISC profile-type which will be perfectly matched to that particular job function. And, when these individuals and their roles are matched, a natural synergy exists; such that they inherently perform exceedingly better in their roles than a person with a different DISC profile, regardless of acquired skills or level of effort. Individuals with the wrong DISC profile for a particular role generally are not naturally gifted or talented for that type of position.

Unfortunately, many positions in organizations, throughout our globe, are filled with individuals who, as a result of an unfortunate twist of fate or through gross misfortune have been inadvertently mismatched with their jobs. And as a result both the employees and their organizations suffer the consequences.

When employees and their positions are mismatched, it quickly turns into a "LOSE-LOSE" proposition. These employees, who are not well-suited to their jobs, constantly struggle when attempting to perform the same tasks and achieve the same goals which come easily to those individuals with natural talents and abilities. Consequently, in their futile struggle to overcome this deficiency, they rarely evolve into the highly motivated and productive individuals everyone, including themselves, hoped they could become.

At that conjuncture, the company and the employee have few good choices. They either continue to live with the ramifications of their circumstances - tolerating the status quo, for lack of a better option; or they make costly and time consuming investments in training, in the hope they can somehow compensate for a lack of natural talent; or they start again with someone new - none of which are exceedingly effective or desirable options; and all are extremely costly.

However, when someone is a natural match to their position, they inherently possess the right personality, character, disposition and talents that are needed to outperform their piers. They feel "comfortable" doing what they do. They enjoy working in their environment. They are extremely happy and content. They feel fulfilled and gratified by their accomplishments. They enjoy coming to work each day, and everyone enjoys having them around. Consequently, they are the most highly motivated and productive person you could find to fill that position. And, they contribute to both the productivity and harmony of the team by achieving levels of excellence that can only evolve from their natural talents and abilities.

Simply by adding DISC behavior profiling to your arsenal of HR tools and processes, you can dramatically improve you ability to identify ideal candidates for every job - those who are naturally matched to the various positions within your organization. As a result, you will begin to build a diverse team of the most highly motivated and productive individuals available to help grow your organization.

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Myth #9. Smart employees don't need to be motivated

Unfortunately, employee intelligence and self-motivation are not, necessarily, synonymous characteristics.

Yes, every organization wants to have smart employees. Smart employees usually learn more quickly, are more innovative, they have an innate ability to adapt to changing circumstances, and often are highly productive. But, to believe that they need any less attention to their environment or operational structure is a serious mistake. In fact, precisely because they are intelligent and are, therefore, attracted to greater challenges and higher goals, you may be required to pay additional attention to their needs to keep them highly motivated.

There are a number of factors that can contribute to under-performance and low motivation among very intelligent people. For instance, they may not be a good "fit" with their position. They may not have been provided with clear organizational or departmental goals. They may have personality conflicts with managers or co-workers. They may feel no sense of challenge or accomplishment. They could have health or wellness issues. Or, maybe, they just don't have a clear understanding of their own personal goals or how their position contributes to their personal success. Any of these, and a broad array of similar factors, (which can potentially plague any employee and/or business), can cause smart employees to lack motivation.

It is therefore imperative that you provide a strong, supporting environment to all your employees - one that fosters high levels of motivation and productivity for everyone.

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Myth #10. Happy employees are motivated employees

Happy employees are not necessarily motivated - but highly motivated and engaged employees are usually happy. After all, happiness is a state of mind, which is vastly different from being motivated or driven to achieve goals.

While there clearly is a relationship between being happy on the job and being motivated, there are tons of immensely happy individuals who are average or below in job performance and motivation. Happiness is a desirable by-product of a healthy employee/employer relationship, but happiness alone does not drive motivation or high performance.

In addition, attempting to directly generate employee happiness is next to impossible to achieve. At best, employers can expend time and resources in an effort to provide "stuff" (benefits, incentives or whatever) to create an environment, which they hope will be conducive to making their people happy. But, studies show that, similar to pay increases, the positive impact, from a motivational and productivity perspective, is generally short lived.

In reality employers should be focusing on generating an environment where the employee feels gratified by their overall working situation and as a result they are motivated and inspired by that environment - then happiness will naturally follow.

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