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How to motivate others

Motivation is one of the biggest challenges that we face as a people manager. Success in our role depends a great deal on our ability to get others to get stuff done, because we can't do everything ourselves. And therefore, one of the most frequent questions that we are asked is:

How do I motivate my team?

How do I make somebody motivated?

And our answer is always the same every time: We can't make somebody motivated!

What we can do is create the condition so that their individual psychological needs are met.

The Three Universal Psychological Needs

All humans have three universal psychological needs and when they are met, we can flourish, thrive and experience higher personal satisfaction and fulfilment. We refer to this as intrinsic motivation (when we find what we are doing to be inherently interesting and appealing).

In contrast, extrinsic motivation is when we are motivated by external consequences, such as financial rewards and the fear of getting into trouble.

And when we can enable and support our team to be intrinsically motivated, that's when they can achieve higher levels of job satisfaction, commitment, personal engagement and even well-being.

The three universal psychological needs are autonomy, belonging and competence. Some authors give them different titles but we like to refer to them as the ABC of motivation; and it is by meeting these needs that we can support people to be intrinsically motivated.

ABC of Motivation

Let’s talk about these three psychological needs into more detail …

A is for Autonomy

People have the need to feel in control and that they have choices, they are responsible for their actions.

And as a Manager, what we can do is:

  • Foster a ‘choice mindset’.
  • Check in not check on (ask more questions).
  • Focus on distinguishing what is and is not in your / their control.
  • Agree clear expectations about what needs to be delivered.
  • Encourage individuals to take more ownership of their work by inputting into their goals and participating in decisions.
  • Have conversations with your team about what they need.


B is for Belonging

Sometimes referred to as relatedness or purpose, it is this universal need that we have to be cared for / care for others and to feel like we are contributing to something that has got meaning.

And as a Manager, what we can do is:

  • Actively connect the work you / they do to a business objective / greater purpose.
  • Explore company and personal values and how these align to yours and you team’s work.
  • Be willing to ask people how they feel and listen to their response.
  • Create opportunities for the team to connect with each other more.


C is for Competence

Sometimes referred to as mastery, it is about people feeling the need to achieve and overcome everyday challenges, demonstrate their skills and feel a sense of growth.

And as a Manager, what we can do is:

  • Focus more on teams’ strengths and how to utilise them more frequently.
  • Actively explore and encourage discussions on learning rather than just performance.
  • Set learning goals / objectives.
  • Use a coaching style approach.
  • Ask about what the team have learnt as well as what they have achieved.


So, the question changes from ‘How do I motivate my team?’ to ‘What can I do to enable in individuals in my team to have their psychological needs met?’

To summarise…

We have a psychological need to experience autonomy, belonging and competence; and when these psychological needs are satisfied and met, we are likely to experience intrinsic motivation, and perform better at work or experience greater fulfilment, be happier and more engaged.

As people managers, we can help do things that encourage intrinsic motivation and we should be conscious of the negative impact that traditional ‘reward systems’ can have.

You can find more tips and ideas on the subject in our social media posts on Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn and in our newsletter.

CAPE Coaching & Development equip, empower, and enable brilliant People Managers through development programmes, workshops and 1-2-1 coaching. Learn more by visiting

(elements of this article are adapted from the work of Susan Fowler)

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