Petra Alijärvi: Strengthening motivation during change

The journey of change is often varied in terms of motivation. Sometimes we are excited, sometimes worried, and in the next moment, despair strikes, and we feel like giving up. Motivation has vanished into thin air. Can one get it back? 

You should focus on motivation before it disappears. It is good to ask yourself and the change project team what kind of things are behind their motivation. This kind of discussion also opens individual motives and team members can learn a lot from each other. You may notice that since different people can be motivated by different things, you also get opportunities to strengthen motivation from different perspectives during the journey of change. 

What is motivation? 

Motivation is driven by internal and external factors. According to Steven Reiss’s theory, we all have 16 basic motives, the importance of which varies individually, and their meaning varies and develops at different times of life. Basic motives arouse motivation for action and guide towards goals. The basic motives identified by Reiss are: power, autonomy, curiosity, acceptance, order, social relations, status, eating, saving, idealism, revenge/winning, physical activity, appreciation, family, beauty, and tranquility. 

Extrinsic motivation means motivation where the reason for doing is separate from the doing itself. It can be money, for example, but if internal motivation is missing, money alone is not enough to keep motivation up, at least in the long run. External motivation can be thought of as a carrot or stick motivation. Extrinsic motivation is reactive and can feel stressful, consuming and focused on threats. Internal motivation, on the other hand, is proactive and can feel inspiring, happy, energetic, and looking for opportunities. Internal motivation, on the other hand, is proactive and can feel inspiring, happy, energetic, and looking for opportunities. In our everyday life, internal and external motivation are mostly present at the same time and work intermingled. For example, a salary can secure the basics of life and raise one’s status, but it can also tell about one’s progress and that one’s work is valued. (Martela & Jarenko, 2015.) 

Keep your motivation up even in difficult moments 

In good moments, when things are smooth and progressing, it’s easy to be motivated. On the journey of change, there are usually those moments when things don’t go smoothly, people in the team can change and it feels like you take many steps back in one moment. Then you must dig that motivation from the mud. The easiest way to go about doing this is to stop and chat with people. When a person feels that they have been heard, it strengthens the feeling of appreciation and social relationships, both of which are basic motives of Reiss. People basically want to participate in things that affect them. There are many ways to participate and I recommend reading more about them on the blog The power of participation in change.  

Feelings are often discussed during projects, and this is a good moment to bring up motivational factors as well. I encourage you to use the word motivation in discussions, to boldly ask what motivates different team members. Especially when the mood drops, it’s good to think together if something has changed and if something can be done about it. According to my own experience, it is often about e.g. the lack of interaction, which can be caused by everyone being so engrossed in their own tasks. This is also related to the lack of feedback. Feedback on one’s own work is important, and uncertainty about whether one is doing the right things weakens motivation and eats away at what one is doing. There is always a lot of new learning during the change journey, and this should be brought up regularly during the project. Learning something new is an excellent motivation factor. 

Through open interaction, team members and those involved in the change can be verbally encouraged, questions and concerns can be heard and thus motivation can be strengthened. It is good to observe how, for example, the different skills of team members can be brought out and strengthened. In addition, it is good to examine the balance between external and internal motivation factors. A team that knows each other well and interacts openly helps to strengthen motivation even when it starts to disappear. 

A checklist to maintain motivation during change:

  • Don’t forget the interaction, keep the conversation going 
  • When feelings are low, highlight the team members’ motivational factors and identify the external and internal motivational factors
  • Discuss whether something has changed, what could be done about it
  • Highlight the development of skills and needs, praise and encourage
  • Ask how each team member wants feedback, think together about the best ways to give feedback 

Source: Draivi. Voiko sisäistä motivaatiota johtaa? F. Martela & K. Jarenko, 2015.