Motivational Theory and Ideas

Alignment of aims, purpose and values between staff, teams and organization is the most fundamental aspect of motivation. The better the alignment and personal association with organizational aims, the better the platform for motivation.

Motivational Theory and Ideas

motivational theory [edit]

employee motivation theory - team building activities, workshops, inspirational quotes, and the power of positive experience

Alignment of aims, purpose and values between staff, teams and organization is the most fundamental aspect of motivation. The better the alignment and personal association with organizational aims, the better the platform for motivation.

Where people find it difficult to align and associate with the organizational aims, then most motivational ideas and activities will have a reduced level of success.

Motivation is a complex area. It's different for each person. See the personality materials for useful explanation about different motivational needs.

Erik Erikson's life stage theory is useful for understanding people's different motivational needs according to life stage. And the experiential learning section explains the difference between 'demotivational training', and 'motivational learning', and a guide to facilitating experiential learning activities.

Nudge theory is a powerful change-management concept which emerged in the early 2000s. It's extremely helpful in understanding, teaching, and to a degree managing the ways that people's thinking and decisions are influenced by indirect factors, rather than direct pressure.

Motivational receptiveness and potential in everyone changes from day to day, from situation to situation. Get the alignment and values right, and motivational methods work better. Motivational methods of any sort will not work if people and organisation are not aligned. People are motivated towards something they can relate to and something they can believe in. Times have changed. People want more. You should view the following motivational methods and ideas as structures, activities and building blocks, to be used when you have a solid foundation in place. The foundation is a cohesive alignment of people's needs and values with the aims and purpose of the organization. Refer to the Psychological Contract, and people-organization alignment and motivation.

motivational methods and theory - assuming people and organization are aligned

Motivational and inspirational quotes, poems, posters, motivational speakers and stories, team building games and activities, all develop employee motivation for sales and business staff in all kinds of organizations. Motivational and inspirational experiences improve employees' attitudes, confidence and performance.

Good leadership demands good people-motivation skills and the use of inspirational techniques. Motivational methods are wide-ranging, from inspirational quotes and poems, to team building games and activities, as ice-breakers, warm-ups and exercises for conferences, workshops, meetings and events, which in themselves can often be helpful for staff motivation too. See the motivation principles and template for staff motivation questionnaires and surveys. Motivation is an essential part of life coaching processes and techniques too. Motivated people perform better - see McGregor's XY Theory for example. People playing games or competing in teams learn about each other, they communicate better and see each other in a new light. Mutual respect grows. See the Johari Window theory for example. People often enjoy events which include new non-work activities, especially when bosses and superiors take part in the same teams as their junior staff, which also helps cohesiveness and 'can-do' culture. Inspirational quotes, stories and poems all help motivation too. Powerful positive imagery stimulates visualisation in the conscious and sub-conscious brain, which encourages self-motivation, developmental behaviour, confidence and belief. Playing games enables people to experience winning and achieving in a way that their normal work might not. People become motivated to achieve and do better when they have experienced the feelings of success and achievement, regardless of context. This is why fire-walking and outward-bound activities have such powerful motivational effect. All of these ideas, and more explained below, contribute to improving motivation, inspiration and performance.

Here is the theory of how team building games, activities like juggling develop motivation, positive images in quotes and stories, inspirational posters, quotations, motivational speakers, team workshops and brainstorming, etc., all help to strengthen relationships, build understanding, increase motivation and improve performance:

how games and other inspirational references and activities help motivation and motivational training

Work and business-based training commonly concentrates on process, rules, theory, structure and logic, all of which tend to develop and use the left-side of the brain. However, modern successful organizations rely just as heavily on their people having well-developed 'soft' skills and attributes, such as self-motivation, confidence, initiative, empathy and creativity, which all tend to use the right-side of the brain. For more information about brain type and bias see the Benziger theory section, for example. Using games and activities like juggling helps to unleash right-side brain skills, because these activities necessarily draw on a person's intuitive, spatial and 'feeling' capabilities - found in the the right-side of the brain.

See the section on Experiential Learning and the guide to facilitating experiential learning activities - it contains many of the principles explained here.

jim barker cartoon
Thanks to Jim Barker - Reproduction of this cartoon is expressly forbidden without permission from Jim Barker 

Also, using activities and references that take people out of their normal work environment creates new opportunities for them to experience winning, achievement, team-working, learning and personal development, in ways that are often not possible in their usual work context. Experiencing these positive feelings is vital for the conscious and sub-conscious visualisation of success and achievement, essential for broadening people's horizons, raising their sights, setting new personal standards and goals, and increasing motivation. The use of role playing games and role play exercises is an especially effective motivational and visualisation technique, despite people's normal aversion to the practice (see the role playing games and activities tips to see how to manage role-playing activities successfully).

Inspirational references, stories, quotes and examples also help the life coaching process.

ice-breakers and warm-ups for motivation

When a group or team of people assemble for a conference, or training course, there is always a feeling of uncertainty and discomfort. Even if people know each other, they feel uncomfortable in the new strange situation, because it is different. Mankind has evolved partly because of this awareness to potential threats and fear of the unknown. Games and team building activities relax people, so that they can fully concentrate on the main purpose of the day, whatever it is, rather than spending the morning still wondering what everyone else is thinking. See the stress theory section for examples. Activities and games are great levellers - they break down the barriers, and therefore help develop rapport and relationships.

building confidence for motivation

Learning something new and completely different liberates the mind. Facing a challenge, meeting it and mastering it helps build confidence.

motivational team building

When you break down barriers, misunderstandings, prejudices, insecurities, divisions, territories and hierarchies - you begin to build teams. Get a group of people in a room having fun with juggling balls or spinning plates and barriers are immediately removed. Teams unite and work together when they identify a common purpose - whether the aim is the tallest tower made out of newspapers, or a game of rounders on the park. Competition in teams or groups creates teams and ignites team effort.

motivational coaching and training motivation

Learning to juggle or some other new activity demonstrates how we learn, and how to coach others. Breaking new tasks down into stages, providing clear instructions, demonstration, practice, time and space to make mistakes, doing it one stage at a time..... all the essential training and coaching techniques can be shown, whether juggling is the vehicle or some other team-building idea, and the learning is clearer and more memorable because it is taken out of the work context, where previously people 'can't see the wood for the trees'. Games and activities provide a perfect vehicle for explaining the training and development process ('train the trainer' for example) to managers, team leaders and trainers.

personal motivation styles and learning motivation

Everyone is different. Taking part in new games and activities outside of the work situation illustrates people's different strengths and working style preferences. Mutual respect develops when people see skills and attributes in others that they didn't know existed. Also, people work and learn in different ways, see the Kolb learning style model and Benziger thinking styles model for examples.

continual development and motivation

Learning and taking part in a completely new activity or game like juggling demonstrates that learning is ongoing. The lessons never finish, unless people decide to stop learning. Juggling the basic 'three ball cascade' pattern doesn't end there - it's just a start - as with all learning and development. Master juggler Enrico Rastelli practiced all the daylight hours juggling ten balls. Introducing people, staff or employees to new experiences opens their minds to new avenues of personal development, and emphasises the opportunity for continuous learning that is available to us all.

improving empathy and communications for motivation

"Seek first to understand, and then to be understood." (Steven Covey). See the Seven Habits Of Highly Effective People summary and review.

To communicate we must understand the other person. Empathy and intuitive skills are right-side brain. Conventional classroom training or distance learning do nothing to address this vital area. Juggling and playing spontaneous or creative games definitely promote development and awareness in the right-side of the brain, which we use when we communicate and understand others. Team activities and games promote communications and better mutual understanding - essential for good organizational performance (see the Johari Window model and theory).

motivation and creativity

Creativity and initiative are crucial capabilities for modern organizational effectiveness. Juggling and other games activities dispel the notion that actions must be according to convention, and that response can only be to stimulus. Successful organizations have staff that initiate, create, innovate, and find new ways to do things better, without being told. Using mind and body together in a completely new way encourages pro-active thought and lateral thinking, which opens people's minds, and develops creative and initiative capabilities. See the brainstorming">">brainstorming process, which integrates well with team building activities and workshops. See also the workshops process and ideas.

motivation for problem-solving and decision-making

Problem-solving is integral to decision-making - see the problem-solving and decision-makingsection. Learning to juggle or taking part in new challenging stimulating activities uses the intuitive brain to solve the problem, the same part that's vital for creatively solving work problems. People who can solve problems creatively can make decisions - and organizations need their staff and employees to have these abilities.

physical activity is motivational

Team building activities like juggling, construction exercises, or outdoor games, get the body moving, which is good for general health and for an energetic approach to work. A minute of juggling three balls is 200 throws, the equivalent of pumping over 20 kilos. Physical activity also provides significant stress relief, and stress management is part of every organisation's duty of care towards its employees. People concentrate and work better when they have had some light exercise and physical stimulus. Physical activity energises people and reduces stress and tension. See details on the stress section.

team building workshops are empowering and motivational

See the section on workshops. Workshops are good vehicles for team building games and activities, and also great for achieving team consensus, collective problem-solving, developing new direction and strategy, and to support the delegation and team development process (see the Tannenbaum and Schmidt Continuum for example).

team building games and activities are motivational

Learning new things - even simple skills like plate-spinning - help to build confidence, promote team-working and unleash creativity. Taking part in workshops and brainstorming">">brainstorming sessions are empowering activities. Combine all three and it's even more effective for team building, development and motivation. See particularly the 'Hellespont Swim' case study and exercise.

If you think about it, all manner of left-side-brain conventional training and business skills can be integrated within an innovative, participative right-side-brain activity-based approach, to increase interest, participation, involvement, retention and motivation.

saying thanks is hugely motivational

Saying thanks and giving praise are the most commonly overlooked and under-estimated ways of motivating people. And it's so easy. Saying thanks is best said naturally and from the heart, so if your intentions are right you will not go far wrong. When you look someone in the eye and thank them sincerely it means a lot. In front of other people even more so. The key words are the ones which say thanks and well done for doing a great job, especially where the words recognise each person's own special ability, quality, contribution, effort, whatever. People always appreciate sincere thanks, and they appreciate being valued as an individual even more. When you next have the chance to thank your team or an individual team-member, take the time to find out a special thing that each person has done and make a point of mentioning these things. Doing this, the praise tends to carry even greater meaning and motivational effect.

motivational quotes - using inspirational quotations and sayings is motivational

Inspirational quotations, and amusing maxims and sayings are motivational when used in team building sessions, conferences, speeches and training courses. Inspirational quotes contribute to motivation because they provide examples and role models, and prompt visualization. Inspirational quotes stimulate images and feelings in the brain - both consciously and unconsciously. Powerful positive imagery found in motivational quotations and poems is genuinely motivational for people, individually and in teams, and can help to build confidence and belief. Inspirational examples motivate people in the same way that the simple 'power of positive thinking', and 'accentuate the positive' techniques do - people imagine and visualisethemselves behaving in the way described in the quotation, saying, story or poem. Visualization is a powerful motivational tool - quotes, stories and poems provide a very effective method for inspiring and motivating people through visualization, imagination and association. See the stories section, and 'If', Rudyard Kipling's famous inspirational poem.

Here are a few motivational quotes, relating to different situations and roles, for example; achievement, management, leadership, etc. When using quote for motivation it's important to choose material that's relevant and appropriate. Motivational posters showing inspirational quotes or poems can be effective for staff and employee motivation, and in establishing organizational values. There are more quotations about inspiration and achievement on the quotes section. These quotes all make effective motivational posters (see the free posters page), and are excellent materials for motivational speakers:

motivational quotes

"We cannot solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them." (Albert Einstein)

"It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit." (President Harry S Truman)

"In the midst of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer." (Albert Camus, 1913 - 1960, French author & philosopher)

"If you're not part of the solution you must be part of the problem." (the commonly paraphrased version of the original quote: "What we're saying today is that you're either part of the solution, or you're part of the problem" by Eldridge Cleaver 1935-98, founder member and information minister of the Black Panthers, American political activist group, in a speech in 1968 - thanks RVP)

"A dream is just a dream. A goal is a dream with a plan and a deadline." (Harvey Mackay - thanks Brad Hanson)

"I have learned that success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles overcome while trying to succeed." (Booker T Washington, 1856-1915, American Educator and African-American spokesman, thanks for quote M Kincaid, and for biography correction M Yates and A Chatterjee)

"Most people never run far enough on their first wind to find out they've got a second. Give your dreams all you've got and you'll be amazed at the energy that comes out of you." (William James, American Philosopher, 1842-1910 - thanks Jean Stevens)

"Whatever you can do - or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it." (Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, German writer, 1749-1832 - thanks Yvonne Bent)

"A dwarf standing on the shoulders of a giant may see farther than the giant himself." (Didacus Stella, circa AD60 - and, as a matter of interest, abridged on the edge of an English £2 coin)

"If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants." (Sir Isaac Newton, 1676.)

"The most important thing in life is not to capitalise on your successes - any fool can do that. The really important thing is to profit from your mistakes." (William Bolitho, from 'Twelve against the Gods')

"Out of the night that covers me, 
Black as the pit from pole to pole, 
I thank whatever gods may be, 
For my unconquerable soul. 
In the fell clutch of circumstance, 
I have not winced nor cried aloud: 
Under the bludgeonings of chance my head is bloody but unbowed . . . . . 
It matters not how strait the gait, how charged with punishments the scroll, 
I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul." 
(WE Henley, 1849-1903, from 'Invictus')

"Management means helping people to get the best out of themselves, not organising things." (Lauren Appley)

"It's not the critic who counts, not the one who points out how the strong man stumbled or how the doer of deeds might have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred with the sweat and dust and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs and comes up short again and again; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions and spends himself in a worthy cause and who, at best knows the triumph of high achievement and who at worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat." (Theodore Roosevelt, 23 April 1923.)

"The world is divided into people who do things, and people who get the credit. Try, if you can, to belong to the first class. There's far less competition." (Dwight Morrow, 1935.)

"What does not kill us makes us stronger." (attributed to Friedrich Nietzsche, probably based on his words: "Out of life's school of war: What does not destroy me, makes me stronger." from The Twilight of the Idols, 1899)

"A life spent in making mistakes is not only more honourable but more useful than a life spent doing nothing." (George Bernard Shaw, 1856-1950.)

"I praise loudly. I blame softly." (Catherine the Great, 1729-1796.)

More are on the inspirational quotes page, and a more varied selection including funny sayings are on the sayings and maxims page.


motivational ideas for sales managers for sales teams

(These principles are applicable to all job roles subject to the notes at the end of this item.)

Motivation of sales people commonly focuses on sales results, but nobody can actually 'do' a result. What matters in achieving results is people's attitude and activity and the areas of opportunity on which the attitude and activity is directed.

What sales people can do is to adopt a positive and creative attitude, and carry out more productive and efficient activity, directed on higher-yield strategic opportunities. By doing these things sales people and sales teams will improve their results.

However the tendency remains for sales managers, sales supervisors and team leaders (typically under pressure from above from executives who should know better) to simply direct people to 'meet the target', or to 'increase sales', or worse still, to pressurise customers into accelerating decision-making, which might work in the short-term but is extremely unhelpful in the medium-term (when business brought forward leaves gaps in the next months' forecasts), and damages the long-term (when as a result of supplier-driven sales pressure, the customer relationship is undermined or ruined).

Instead think about what really motivates and excites people, and focus on offering these opportunities to sales people and sales teams, on an ongoing basis. Don't wait until you find yourself 25% behind target with only half of the year remaining, and with targets set to increase as well in the final quarter.

People will not generally and sustainably improve their performance, or attitude when they are shouted at or given a kick up the backside. People will on the other hand generally improve their performance if empowered to develop their own strategic capability and responsibility within the organisation. HerzbergAdamsHandyMaslowMcGregor, and every other management and motivation expert confirmed all this long ago.

Sales teams generally comprise people who seek greater responsibility. They also seek recognition, achievement, self-development and advancement.

So if we know these things does it not make good sense to offer these opportunities to them, because we know that doing so will have a motivational effect on them, and also encourage them to work on opportunities that are likely to produce increasing returns on their efforts? Of course. So do it.

If you are managing a sales team try (gently and progressively) exploring with the team how they'd like to develop their experience, responsibilities, roles, status, value, contribution, within the business. Include yourself in this. Usually far more ideas and activity come from focusing on how the people would like to develop their roles and value (in terms of the scale and sophistication of the business that they are responsible for), rather than confining sales people to a role that is imposed on them and which is unlikely to offer sustainable interest and stimulation.

All businesses have many opportunities for new strategic growth available. Yours will be no different.

Most employees are capable of working at a far higher strategic level, developing ever greater returns on their own efforts.

Performance improvement is generally found through enabling people and teams to discover and refine more productive and strategic opportunities, which will lead to more productive and motivating activities.

For example: reactive sales people are generally able to be proactive account mangers; account managers are generally able to be major accounts developers; major accounts developers are generally able to be national accounts managers; national accounts mangers are generally able to be strategic partner and channel developers; strategic partner and channel managers are generally able to be new business sector/service developers, and so on...

Again include yourself in this.

If necessary (depending on your organisational culture and policies seek approval from your own management/executives for you to embark on this sort of exploration of strategic growth. (If you are unable to gain approval there are many other organisations out there who need people to manage sales teams in this way....)

Obviously part of the approach (and your agreement with your people - the 'psychological contract') necessarily includes maintaining and meeting existing basic business performance target levels. This is especially so since strategic growth takes time, and your business still needs the normal day-to-day business handled properly. But people can generally do this, ie., maintain and grow day-to-day performance while additionally developing new higher-level strategic areas, because genuinely motivated people are capable of dramatic achievements. The motivation and capacity to do will come quite naturally from the new responsibility and empowerment to operate at a higher level.

N.B. The principles described above generally apply to most other job roles. People are motivated by growth and extra responsibility, while at the same time the organisation benefits from having its people focus on higher strategic aims and activities. Be aware however that people in different roles will be motivated by different things, and particularly will require different types of support and guidelines when being encouraged to work at a higher strategic level. For example, engineers require more detail and clarification of expectations and process than sales people typically do; administrators are likely to require more reassurance and support in approaching change than sales people typically do.

For sure you should encourage and enable people to develop their roles, but make sure you give appropriate explanation, management and support for the types of people concerned. 

Here are some classic motivation books, all related to motivational theories featured on this website.

These books are linked to

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See also [edit]

Other useful motivational theories and materials on this website, for example: