Detectives have to be good at understanding human behaviour.

When they're on a case, they first seek to understand the motive. Why did someone do this difficult and risky thing?

They generally expect to find answers along the lines of a desperate need for money or survival, pure greed, intense anger, a drive for some form of power, or a wish for revenge.

So the motive is either a raw basic need, or deep emotional one.

And this is where we get the idea of motivation wrong, as agency leaders, in seeking to motivate our teams to do good things.

Last week, I mentioned former Intel CEO Andy Grove's belief that there are two key tools a boss has as a multiplier, in increasing the effectiveness of their teams:

  • improve capability (e.g. through training, as we discussed last week)
  • improve motivation (which we're discussing this week)

In wanting to be nice people, we fall into the idea that motivation means keeping people happy with only good news, a positive spin, fun times, free pizza and a wacky office — possibly also letting people push the boundaries way too far, just to avoid making them unhappy with a 'no'.

That's certainly the mistake I started out making (and the one I keep sliding back into, to be honest).

But as you grow into your role as a boss, a key learning is that people's happiness is not your responsibility. It's not even close to being within your power.

Also, agencies where the boss has focused primarily on trying to keep everyone happy and everything fun are often stagnating, or unstable — because there's no focus or momentum to do the right things and the hard work.

Instead of trying to motivate people into being happy, ensure they have a good motive to take the right actions.

A strong reason for getting together and collaborating towards shared goals.

Those motives are likely to be either raw basic needs (but hopefully you pay enough to remove money, food, shelter etc as a worry), or (more likely) a deep emotional need.

People who join agencies may want to change the world in some way, accelerate their careers way ahead of the average, have a wider range of experiences, have big challenging work, become an expert, work with particular types of clients or projects, become famous in their field, and so on.

Play detective to figure out what the motives for your motley crew are. Align the work to the motives and the motives to the work. Then communicate, communicate, communicate about those motives and the alignment.

Motives, rather than motivation.

Have a great week,


P.S. The funny thing is, it's been found, in study after study, that having strong motives results in people enjoying themselves even in some of the hardest situations. So happiness can be a result, but focused effective collaboration towards a worthwhile purpose is the aim.

P.P.S. Want more agency leadership thinking like this? I help agency founders and CEOs work at a higher altitude in their business, to design it mindfully and run it effectively. I do this with as many agencies as possible by being a virtual non-exec. You can be a member, and have me on your virtual advisory board for just £225 a month and get lots of guidance to run a healthier agency. Become a member today and let's get started.

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