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Work Motivation

Work Motivation – Play to Your Strengths

When it comes to work motivation: what’s your view of work – are you weighed-down or buoyed up?

There is one quick way to improve your own performance, that of your team’s and to all feel better about work while you are doing it! In this article we introduce the ideas behind a strength-based approach to work motivation.

You can find out how to work to your strengths and get others to do so in our specially written guide to help you build on your strengths. Managing from strengths to strength shows you how the best managers create happy, high-performing workplaces.

Some might say it’s one of management’s best-kept secrets. But it needn’t be – the answer is in this guide! It comes complete with 5 tools to help you make an impact straight a way.

This is the third article in our series on improving work motivation. The first article: In Search of Optimum Performance, introduces the series. If you haven’t read this article yet then it may be a good place to start.

Management is essentially a balancing act and the first article introduces a model which may help you to achieve optimum performance.

The model is based on six common management problem areas:Work Motivation

  1. Ease of work
  2. View of workload -work motivation: play to your strengths
  3. Amount of discretionary time
  4. Energy to tackle work
  5. Ability to be creative
  6. Getting the right things done

The second article: “Self-motivation: Let it Flow”, addresses the first of these problem areas, ease of work . The article examines how we can achieve “flow” at work and find a balance between work that is too hard, and work that is too easy. It also contains some useful self-motivation tips!

In this third article we consider your view of work – do you feel buoyed up or weighed down? Working to your strengths is a crucial step in enjoying your work and in optimizing your work performance. This idea complements and builds on the concept of flow at work. The idea here is that you’re much more likely to be “in-the-zone” when you’re using your strengths.

Volume of Work – Do You Feel Overloaded?

The first place to start is probably the obvious. Try asking yourself: are you actually doing too much at work? If the answer is yes, your problem is obviously the volume of work so look for ways to deal with this. If you control your own workload, make sure you haven’t substituted activity for productivity. There is always a danger of doing things that don’t really need to be done, or that contribute little to the outcomes you’re trying to achieve.

Are there any activities you should cut because they add no value to your work. Read our article on busyness for some tips on ensuring you really are being productive. This step alone could increase your work motivation! If you’re happy that the work you’re doing is essential, make sure you’re doing it as efficiently as possible, perhaps by using productivity techniques such as David Allen’s Getting Things Done.

Being productive is important but there are other important things to consider too. For example, we’re far less likely to feel overworked if we’re doing work we enjoy or which we are good at.

Work Motivation and Playing to Your Strengths

If you think it might be the type of work you’re doing that’s affecting you, perhaps you’re not doing enough work that builds on your strengths. Doing more of what you are good at can have an immediate effect on your work motivation. Think about your strengths and how you might be able to focus more on the things you’re good at. How can you delegate or even dismiss work which you find difficult? Can you re-negotiate your workload or work-focus with your manager? Is staff development required? Can this help you improve any deficiencies in skills or knowledge that may be stopping you from making the most of your strengths?

Note that this is deliberately phrased! The emphasis here isn’t on getting better at something you’re not very good at! Rather it’s on addressing anything that stops you doing more of what you are good at.

What are Strengths?

Sometimes we might not readily recognize our strengths. Often they come naturally, with relative ease, and it’s easy to overlook them or take them for granted. However we should never overlook the value of our strengths, they are the easiest way to improve our work motivation. According to Peter Drucker a strength is something you are good at, where there is clear evidence from feedback that that is the case. Strengths are not potential or possible areas, they are things you do consistently well. There must be clear evidence to indicate that you are good at them. According to Drucker knowing …“where your strengths lie” is the important thing.

Marcus Buckingham, has since taken the idea further. His definition of strengths echoes Drucker’s view. He suggests they are

“defined by your actual activities. They are things you do, and more specifically, things you do consistently and near perfectly.”

Work Motivation Activity: Discover Your Strengths

How do you recognise a strength? Marcus Buckingham has an interesting slant on this, suggesting strengths are the activities which make you feel strong. Why not try these tips to help you identify or think more about your strengths:

  • Write down any strengths you think you have in the the job you’re currently doing;
  • Write down any strengths you’ve used in the past but do not use now;
  • Write down any strengths you use outside work, but haven’t been asked to use at work;
  • What evidence can you provide of your ability to perform in these areas of strength?
  • What do others say? You may want to ask others you trust, especially those with an ability to give feedback.

It’s what we’re good at that helps us perform, and it’s more than likely that you were appointed to your current role because of them. Too often though, we focus our development needs on improving weaknesses, simply accepting or ignoring strengths. Being clear on your strengths is not an easy activity, but it is crucial. Always look to develop your strengths so that where you are already good you can then excel. Work motivation becomes a natural extension of doing more with our strengths.

Work Motivation and Weaknesses

However important we think strengths are, we’re not advocating that weaknesses are left or ignored. Particularly if these weaknesses impact negatively on your strengths. Try these tips to help you identify or think more about your weaknesses:

  • Write down any weaknesses you think you have in the the job you’re currently doing;
  • Write down any weaknesses outside of work;
  • Does a weakness restrict you from improving your strengths?
  • Can any weaknesses be disregarded, are they unimportant in relation to your strengths?
  • Can you do less in relation to weaknesses, or craft your role to minimise the impacts?

Some options to deal with weaknesses include:

  • Manage it out of what you do (don’t do it);
  • Is it a discipline or habit you just need to do?
  • Is it a behaviour you need to deal with?
  • Do you need development or training?
  • Find others around you who have strengths in your areas of weakness;
  • Can you use a strength to overcome an area of weakness?

We all can’t be good at everything; some weaknesses are due to our combination of talent, skills and knowledge not suiting that activity. However if it is a weakness for other reasons it may well be important to deal with it. You will need to be honest with yourself here! Is a weakness due to:

  • Lack of discipline or even laziness?
  • Poor behaviours we need to address?

Some weaknesses we can live with but some must dealt with, not ignored!

Work Motivation: Becoming Stronger

Peter Drucker reminds us of the insights to be gained from the ancient Japanese tradition of zen. The greatest benefit of training comes not from learning something new but from doing better what we already do well. If you’re struggling with work motivation it may be due to overload but more often it can be because you’re simply not using your strengths. A great place to start getting the focus back onto your strengths is with our guide Managing from Strength to Strength.

Try combining your strengths with the conditions that create flow, as discussed in the first article in this series: (Self-motivation: let it Flow).

This may be just the combination to help you flourish at work. Identifying your strengths is a significant task in itself, but there are more questions to ask of yourself. The next one to think about is how much time you spend using your strengths? Our next article may help with this as we look at our use of discretionary time.

What actions do you need to take to move yourself along the Optimum Performance Graph? What can you do to enhance your work motivation and feel more buoyed up at work?.

  • Where would you position yourself?
  • What do you need to do to work more with your strengths on a regular basis?
  • What do you need to do to address any issues you’ve identified?



For more on the Optimum Performance Series just follow these links:

  1. Ease of work
  2. View of workload
  3. Amount of discretionary time
  4. Energy to tackle work
  5. Ability to be creative
  6. Getting the right things done

Where to go from here:


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