Ask the staff: ‘What keeps you up at night?’

businessman working lateMotivating people rarely works if you appeal to something that’s temporary or superficial. Dangling a reward that they perceive as minor or inconsequential will doom your attempt to spur them to excel.

A more effective motivational strategy involves connecting employees with a noble purpose. Help them see that their effort translates into a greater good—an outcome that’s truly meaningful to the larger world.

How can you tell if people are driven by a noble purpose? Ask them, “What keeps you up at night?” The most motivated employees respond by describing their overriding goal to make a life-changing impact on others.

Dirk Veldhorst is director of corporate health for AkzoNobel, a global chemical manufacturer based in Amster­­dam. What keeps him awake at night?

“The health and well-being of 55,000 people around the world,” he says, referring to AkzoNobel’s employees.

For Veldhorst, he sees his role as im­­proving the mental and physical health of his workforce. He’s passionate about supporting healthful initiatives such as offering programs to improve wellness and avoid burnout.

“Well-being is a means to an end,” he explains. “With it, you can create value for yourself and your organization. With­­out it, short-term productivity is less probable and long-term growth is almost impossible.”

Make it easy for your employees to de­­velop a deep conviction that flows from an admirable purpose. Prod them to consider the larger purpose of their job and their potential to enhance others’ lives.

— Adapted from Why Motivating People Doesn’t Work…and What Does, Susan Fowler, Berrett-Koehler.