How to Motivate Team Members: Focus on Their Strengths

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Clockwork" by Mike Michalowicz. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Is your team suffering from a motivation slump? What can you, as a leader, do to motivate your team?

There’s no better way to motivate employees than to assign them motivating tasks. When people perform tasks that fit their inclinations and skill level, they’re naturally driven to perform their best.

Here’s how to motivate team members by assigning them good-fit tasks.

Match Your Team to Tasks That Motivate Them

If you want to know how to motivate your team members, Michalowicz argues that you should assign your teammates tasks that motivate them. Motivating tasks are ones that closely align with a person’s strengths. He claims people work efficiently, effectively, and independently when their job tasks align with their strengths.

How to Identify Your Employees’ Top Strengths

First, Break All the Rules by Gallup Press presents three categories of strengths to help you generate a list of your employees’ strong suits:

Your employees’ motivations. For example, someone who’s generous is well-suited for an opportunity to share their expertise with others, such as mentoring new hires. 

Your employees’ reasoning skills. For example, someone who’s methodical in their reasoning is well-suited for tasks that involve thoroughly processing information, such as transcribing interviews.

Your employees’ interpersonal skills. For example, someone who’s enthusiastic will do well in a role that involves greeting new clients.

Hire People for the Remaining Tasks

According to Michalowicz, if there are any tasks you struggle to match to current employees, hire new people in a part-time or full-time capacity to complete those tasks. Specifically, hire people based on their strengths instead of their experience. It’s hard to teach people new strengths, but it’s possible to teach them skills that build their experience. When interviewing potential hires, avoid asking candidates to describe their past job experience (such as “receptionist”). Instead, ask them to share their work-related strengths (such as “dealing with frustrated customers”).

(Shortform note: Hiring someone for their strengths is arguably more risky than hiring someone for their experience, as the employee lacks an objective track record that proves their capabilities. To mitigate this risk, consider giving each new hire a trial period. In First, Break All the Rules, Gallup Press recommends that after you match an employee to a new role, you give them a set period of time to undergo training and try their new role. This trial period will allow you to see how quickly and effectively they’re able to acquire new, task-specific skills. If they or you determine their role is a poor fit for their strengths or they’re having trouble efficiently learning new skills, part ways or consider assigning them other tasks.)

How to Motivate Team Members: Focus on Their Strengths

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  • Why a hands-on approach to leadership is usually not the best method

Darya Sinusoid

Darya’s love for reading started with fantasy novels (The LOTR trilogy is still her all-time-favorite). Growing up, however, she found herself transitioning to non-fiction, psychological, and self-help books. She has a degree in Psychology and a deep passion for the subject. She likes reading research-informed books that distill the workings of the human brain/mind/consciousness and thinking of ways to apply the insights to her own life. Some of her favorites include Thinking, Fast and Slow, How We Decide, and The Wisdom of the Enneagram.

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