How to motivate a team–and why it’s important for your business

When employees aren't motivated, your business is at risk.

Low motivation means that you’re less likely to reach your goals.

Not reaching your goals means that you're not going to sell your product or service.

When you're not selling, you're not making any money.

And when you're not making any money…

… Your business won't survive.

Which we definitely want to avoid. Knowing how to motivate a team, big or small, is vital for the success of your business.

Why it’s important: The benefits of motivated employees

For a start, highly engaged and motivated employees are 87% less likely to leave their job (Corporate Leadership Council).

You spent a lot of time and money getting the right employees in the first place, but your job isn't done just because they signed the dotted line–if you want to keep good employees, you have to make sure they are working in a good environment.

Commitment leads to satisfaction, which increases development and learning, resulting in higher success.

When you have a motivated team, they are more willing to put in the work and time required to run a successful business.

Committed employees want to do the best they can, and often the goals of the business start to align with the goals of the people within it–motivating them even more and leading to even better results.

And when your employees are committed to getting results, their overall satisfaction increases too.

As they work more they become better at what they do, and they naturally progress into other, or more fields–helping your business grow.

The business growth often leads to higher success, which resets the cycle–improving commitment, which increases satisfaction, helping employees to develop and grow, resulting in a more successful business.

Note: success does not have to equal financial gain. Surviving as a small business is a huge success in itself and should not be overlooked. Other definitions of success could include building a better product, increasing your capacity, or being able to support your family.

How to motivate employees

So now you know why it’s important to motivate your team, let’s take a look at how to do it.


Get better at communicating.

And not just by sending an email or a text message.

You should really talk to your team. Learn who they are.

What can they talk about for hours? Where is their favourite place in the world?

It’s much easier for your employees to feel valued, and responsible for the work they are doing, if they have a clear understanding of what is going on, and why they are doing something.

And when they’re informed, it’s easier for them to care about the outcome.

So whether it’s good news, bad news, you’re stressed, or unsure–your employees will be in a much better situation to help you (and the business) when they know what is going on.

Recognise the individuals.

Falling under better communication is recognition; it’s important that you know which members of your team are going the extra mile, and who is responsible for making things happen.

But what's more important than recognising valued actions, is acting on them. Telling an individual that you see their hard work, and how much you appreciate it is often enough to make them continue doing it.

Making a point of noticing someone can go a long way.

On the other hand, not all of your employees are going to be going the extra mile. Many will perform as expected, and some might underperform.

As the boss or manager, it’s up to you to find out why that might be, and to see if there are any obstacles that you can remove that will help motivate them, and therefore improve their performance.

Creating a positive environment.

Better communication and recognising individuals will both contribute to building a positive environment, but they aren't the only things you can do to increase motivation at work.

A good first step is to talk to your team and find out what issues they might have. There are lots of ways to go about collecting good, clear feedback–from recurring meetings, to anonymous forms, to suggestion boxes.

Once you have an idea of what some of the issues are, you can start to work on fixing them.

Some fixes will be quick, others might point at larger issues and take longer or more money to solve–but this depends on your business.

A positive environment is somewhere that employees can feel good about what they do. Team events or rewards can help to create the kind of environment that people want to be in.


Empower your people.

After you've recognised who is going the extra mile, a good next step is to empower them.

Empowering the right employee can be a win-win-win situation.

They win: because they have more responsibility and a more active part in the business. You win: because there is less that you have to take care of or worry about on a daily basis. The business wins: because more people are working hard to make sure its a success.

Sharing responsibility for certain aspects of the business means that people are more likely to want it to be a success. If the outcome is based on their performance, if it has their name on it–they will want to work hard to make it happen.

It’s one of the best ways to show how much you value your team, and it truly makes them feel like a key part of the business–which ultimately pushes them further and increases their motivation even more.

Give them opportunities to grow.

Finally, there is no quicker way to de-motivate an employee than if they feel like they are going to be stuck on the same level or position until the end of time.

People want to advance, and get better over time. If you can’t offer that, someone else probably can.

Let your employees know what development opportunities there are, and what they would have to do to advance in their career.

A lot of these points crossover into each other, and you'll notice that when you start to do one of them, it becomes easier to achieve more and more.

To recap, these are the things you need to do to motivate your team:

  • Get better at communicating

  • Recognise the individuals

  • Create a positive environment

  • Empower your people

  • Give them opportunities to grow

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Employee motivation theories–the science behind the motivation

What is proven to motivate people?

What makes them do what they do?

Here are some employee motivation theories to explain what motivates your team.

maslows brighter

Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs:

The hierarchy of needs can show us how and why people are motivated. The pyramid is made up of 5 sections, and the general idea is that the bottom section needs to be fulfilled before the next one can be met, and so on.

Physiological needs: these are the things you need to survive, like food and water.

Safety: these are things like having personal and financial security, and being healthy.

Love or belonging: this looks at the importance of friendships, relationships and family.

Esteem: how confident is a person? Are they respected by their peers?

Self-actualisation: this is the innate desire to become the best person that you can be, and achieve everything you possibly could.

What does it mean in relation to the workplace, and your business?

If we follow the general rule that you need to have fulfilled the bottom layers of the pyramid before moving on to the upper ones, it means that your job as an employer is not just to worry about the last step (arguably the most related to their work life), but to see how you can make the other steps more achievable.

For example, could flexible working hours help your employees feel fulfilled when it comes to love or belonging?

Could having a partnership with a gym or wellness facility fulfil your employee's safety needs?

If you help to fulfil your employees needs at the lower end of the pyramid, they are more likely to perform better at work.

Expectancy theory:

This theory suggests that people will behave or act in a certain way, because doing so will result in a predicted outcome.

It consists of 3 stages:

Expectancy - the belief that your efforts will be rewarded with a certain outcome. This is based on past experiences, a person's confidence, and the difficulty of the task.

Instrumentality - the belief that you will be rewarded when you meet performance expectations.

Valence - how valuable is the reward to you?

So what does this mean for your business?

It’s a reminder, and a way to make sure that specific rewards should relate to the performance of a specific task–and to make sure that the reward is in fact wanted in the first place.

People are most motivated when they are working towards an achievable goal, and achieving that goal results in an expected reward for doing so.

People are least motivated when they don't care about the reward. This could be because it’s not relevant to them, or the task that it’s related to. Motivation also falls when a set goal is too unrealistic, or not likely to be achieved.

Herzberg’s two factor theory:

This theory states that there are a set of factors which affect job satisfaction, and that there are a separate set of factors that affect job dissatisfaction, and each set of factors are independent from each other.

Motivators: these are the things that motivate employees to work harder. It includes things like, how much do people enjoy the work? Is there a chance to advance? Are they learning? Are they recognised for what they do?

Hygiene factors: these are things that employees need, or expect in the workplace. Including, salary, benefits, company policies, internal relationships.

What does it mean in relation to your business?

There are some things that employees simply need to be present in the workplace–the hygiene factors. An absence of those things doesn’t just result in low motivation, but probably not showing up at all.

And then there are some things that are not necessary to have, but definitely make it better–the motivators. Once the hygiene factors are in place, motivators can be used to make employees even happier.


Of course, there are more theories out on there on the workplace and motivation–but these three are a good place to start understanding why people behave the way that they do.

We want you to be successful–knowing how to motivate a team can play a big part in that. We hope this guide helped you learn a little bit more, and that you put it to the test!

Are you a small business owner? How do you motivate your team? Let us know on twitter.

You can find other useful tips for your business on our blog.


Alex Thumwood