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Career Tips

9 ways to motivate others

by Brought to you by ACS Careers
November 3, 2018 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 96, Issue 44


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One of the oldest questions known to humankind is, “Why do people do the things they do?” This question is often followed closely by, “And how do I get them to do what I want them to do?”

When you need something done, and it’s too big of a task to do yourself, you need to enlist other people’s help. But motivating others to do what you think is important is one of the biggest challenges of leadership.

Research suggests that humans are motivated by autonomy, mastery, and purpose. People want to control their actions, receive recognition for what they have done, learn new things, and feel that what they are doing matters. So how can you give that to them?

1. Ask them. Explain exactly what you need, by when, and why. Explaining the bigger picture lets others see how their contributions will matter and provides the context needed to make better decisions about how to accomplish tasks.

2. Involve them. Ask them what it will take for them to get involved. Everyone is different, and what may be highly motivating for one person could be agony for someone else. Find out what motivates them and tailor your expectations accordingly.

3. Trust them. Give them the autonomy to decide how the work will be done, within certain parameters. Give them ownership, but make sure they know you are available for questions.

4. Inspire them. Explain why you asked them, as opposed to someone else. List the knowledge, skills, and experiences that make them perfectly prepared for the task. People will often live up to your expectations, so set high expectations, and let them know you expect success.

5. Appreciate them. Thank them sincerely. Praise publicly and share positive feedback with their supervisors, as well as with other teammates.

6. Reward them. Provide tangible evidence of your gratitude. Send a handwritten note thanking them for the extra effort on a large project. Certificates, gift cards, plaques, public recognition, another interesting project, and more responsibility are all ways to reward people. Even if you have only a tiny budget, you can do something to show your gratitude.

7. Challenge them. Start a friendly competition among teams or departments, ideally one in which everyone can win or learn something. Keep the competition among teams, not individuals, to prevent it from becoming too contentious.

8. Celebrate them. Celebrate success as a team, but recognize each person’s contribution. If it’s a really large project, break it down into smaller goals that can be celebrated.

9. Inform them. Even after their contribution is complete, let them know how the project turned out. Especially if they aren’t part of the project from beginning to end, make sure they know that their contribution mattered for its ultimate success.

If you want to accomplish big things, you need cooperation from others. Motivating others will help bring your vision to life.

Get involved in the discussion. The ACS Career Tips column is published the first week of every month in C&EN. Post your comments, follow the discussion, and suggest topics for future columns in the Career Development section of the ACS Network (



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