What is Motivation, Why is it Important and How to Spot it

What is Motivation, Why is it Important and How to Spot it



As we mentioned in our Performance Coaching article, performing good at anything you do is essentially determined by three things:

Your Knowledge and Abilities, Having available all the needed Resources and Tools to properly execute the task, and your Personal Motivation to do it.

Basically the motivation, being the third element of performance equation, is “the glue” that makes the previous two meaningful. It gives color to otherwise grey world of business.





Motivation about doing a task is the DirectionIntensity and Duration of behaviour towards that task.



  • The Direction of behaviour is shown by choices you make. For example, between two activities.
  • Intensity of Behaviour  – if you put in a lot of physical effort to do a task, it’s an indication that you’re very motivated about it.
  • The Duration of a behaviour is also indicative of motivation. The longer a person spends on an activity or the more they persist in the face of obstacles indicates higher motivation for this activity.


From Leadership Perspective:


  • The Direction of behaviour

So, imagine that you have an employee, who needs to create a presentation for a meeting, It’s not his usual job and normally he or she does not do such things. This time though, circumstances demand it. The same employee has other tasks to do too. Time table is similar.

Now you can clearly understand that employee’s motivation about the presentation by the choices he makes about it. Is it his “first thing in the morning” or does he push it “for later” multiple times?

Right now we will not look at reasons, but instead just want to show you that motivation could transfer towards different tasks depending on circumstances. In our case, it doesn’t mean the employee is not motivated to do the presentation at all, (after all, you discussed  if he is OK with the task in advance, and you explained why he is the right person for the job, right?) it just means that his motivation to do his other tasks is stronger in the current circumstances.


  • Intensity of Behaviour

A strong opposition for doing  specific task is great indicator of poor motivation towards it. If an employee shows signs of disagreement towards a task, you, as his leader, should most definitely pay attention. It can be in form of verbal commentary, but it could be indirect indication as well.

Never forget that people are different. Not everybody is feeling comfortable with direct confrontation. Especially if (which is kind of common characteristic of IT folks) he or she is an introvert. 

A great way to loose a valuable employee is by making him or her execute tasks that he or she believes is not for him. Shortly, this will lead to more serious  lack of motivation and therefore dissatisfaction with the work. In such case this employee is not in his place, OR your expectations are not meeting the initial arrangements. All of your employees HAVE to be aware of expectations towards them and to be OK with those in advance! It is impossible to stress enough the importance of tasking the right people for the right tasks AND explaining why they are right!

The opposite is true too. When one persists and do a task no matter the hustle, that person obviously has a good motivation for it. You should most certainly observe and try to figure out what makes him wanting to do it again and again. The same motivator, could turn out to be useful for motivating that exact employee about other tasks too.


  • The Duration

People are usually very good of finding reasons why not to do tasks they dislike (e.g. are demotivated to do). The repeated behavior of avoiding specific task in time is great indicator of poor motivation towards it. If an employee has shown a concrete misconduct towards some of his regular tasks day after day, you should pay attention.

Another great way to loose a valuable employee is by not seeing when multiple such (maybe small) tasks are neglected by him or her regularly. In long term this will lead to more serious  lack of motivation and therefore dissatisfaction with the work. Important thing here is for you to do a reality check! Are those small tasks crucial for the working process? Is there a chance that you are micromanaging? Will the company loose greatly if those tasks are changed / removed? Will the company profit if you increase the motivation of that exact employee by removing those tasks of his plate?

On the other hand, if the same person is learning actively how to manage task more easily, tries again and again to make it easier for himself and to get better at doing it,  this will most definitely mean that the person has stronger motivation about it in the long term.


From Individual Perspective:


  • The Direction of behaviour

So, imagine that you had a choice between creating a presentation for a meeting or spending half an hour playing your favorite computer game, which one would you choose? If you chose to work on the presentation, we would assume that your motivation to work on the presentation is greater than your motivation to play games. (At least to that moment 🙂  ).

This greater motivation could be from a preference for creating reports, but more likely it could also be, because you have a looming deadline.

Right now we will not look at reasons, but instead just want to show you that motivation could transfer towards different tasks depending on circumstances. In our case, it doesn’t mean you are not motivated to play games, it just means that your motivators to do the presentation are stronger in the current circumstances.

The important thing for you is to pay attention and be flexible with your motivation. Every current situation you are in has it’s own circumstances, involved third parties and demands. You should find a way to motivate yourself towards the important things, and do it in time. Otherwise you should change the field / job / activity / task. Take under consideration that it could be VERY frustrating for other people, involved with the task in hand when you don’t do your part OR do it but not in time.


  • Intensity of Behaviour

Have you ever been doing a task with such will for completion, that regardless of your difficulties, you kept going until the task was done? That’s pure motivation. No matter what were the reasons of your behaviour, that’s the way you spot a real motivation!

On the other hand, there are million reasons why not to do the annoying tasks. (for example the presentation from above). But when you persists and do it no matter those reasons, you show a good motivation for it and it directly affects the results.  Again, depending on circumstances, this motivation could vary.

The important thing is – you already agreed of doing it! So you should find a way to get motivated in the process. If you are not, you should’ve said so in the first place – when someone tries to task you with something you dislike, try to understand why it’s you, that is supposed to do it. Why that person thinks you are the right man for the job. If you think someone is better equipped, try to reason with the person, by giving him the better solution.


  • The Duration

If we take the example from above, one could try and do the presentation as fast as he could. (If, let’s say, the end goal is just getting it done) and then stop.

On the other hand, if the same person is trying actively to improve the presentation after initial completion, spends time with the details, design, quality etc., and spends as much as needed for the task (presentation) to be absolutely perfect,  this will most definitely  mean that the person has far more stronger motivation of doing the task




(Without actively measuring it)



There are many ways to spot motivation (or lack of it). The right way is to observe peoples’ behaviours.


  • How much time people persist on a task, – Whether they persist or give up in the face of obstacles.

The more persistent and consistent in pursuing the task, the better indication of a strong motivation they show. Let’s say a software guy is going day after day over different forums concerning a specific new technology, or programming language. Even though this language is not his specialty, it’s quite different from his area of expertise and is not directly involved in his every-day work. This will most definitely mean he has strong motivation learning about this new language.

Reasons for this may vary – for ex. he might be looking to change jobs. Or he might be aiming at promotion in his current company. He might be just curious and eager to learn new things, or he might have a project on a side, that he’s developing. If you are his manager, you should be observant and try to figure out what is his motivation for this behavior, because , as we already said, this is a sign for a strong one.

  • What is their e reaction time regarding issues in the context of the task.

Faster reaction times indicate greater focus on task and more motivation.

Let’s give it an example. Imagine you own a software company and one of your software guys is stalling to finish a specific task for some reason. He always says “OK, I’ll do it” but it takes considerably more time than normal. This might be because he’s having troubles completing the task, but the logical explanation is different. (We take that if you, as his manager, gave him the task, that would mean that he\s capable doing it.) It will most likely show that this person lacks the motivation to do it. He prioritizes other tasks, because his motivation for this specific task is weak.

Again, reasons could vary, but usually the rule is – if he’s motivated enough, he will be eager to do it in time. On the other hand, if a guy jumps straight ahead when the opportunity for a specific task is presented, then you know, he’s motivated enough 😉  .   Important thing for managers is to always take under consideration those reaction times, because it will affect the work flow directly.


  • Nonverbal signs, such as facial expressions and body posture.
Usually when people look happy, focused and attentive, it indicates high motivation towards the task they are doing.
Eye movements can also be useful. It can tell you what the person is paying attention to, while blinks indicate shifts of attention.
Pupil dilation also indicates interest.
Leaning the body in conversation and keeping an open posture indicates interest as well, whereas crossing your arms and turning your body away from a person or object indicates lack of interest or even a motivation to avoid. With tech guys it is usually quite easy to say when they are strongly interested in a specific topic.
The way they behave , move and act while talking or listening about it is quite showing. Simply put, they look more “alive” than usually.
Important thing to remember is that nonverbal signs should always be considered only if they are displayed in combination.
That means you should look for multiple signs and not judge for a person by only one. For example, the person in front of you might be cold or going trough some personal troubles and because of that his body reacts the way it does. So look for more than one (best to find 3) sign of a specific indication before making any conclusions.
Then ask! 🙂 After all this is not the CIA! You want them to open and tell you what’s wrong, and usually – they do too!
  • Verbal signs. yes, that’s right – you need to listen! People usually tell when they are unhappy with something.
Listen about what goals, fears and desires do people talk about.
What are their expectations regarding those and why are they experiencing them. If it’s unclear, you could always ask…
Your lead software developer has a little kid? He might need more time at home. But if you don’t listen, you will only judge by his regular early office leaving, and instead of giving him the right incentive (such a work from home, flexible working hours or option to come to office earlier) you will most likely punish him, which will directly lead to enormous drop in his motivation.




Motivation is influenced both by the person’s disposition and by the environment.


  • Some people are generally more inclined to experience and show motivation across different activities than other people. They put a lot of energy into everything that they do. This is so-called natural motivation. It comes from the people themselves, and their genuine interest towards the task, the field or the end goal.
  • The environment can significantly affect people motivation. The way tasks are designed for example, can make them more or less interesting and stimulating.
    • The building blocks of the environment are the other people and how are they involved in those tasks, such as colleagues, friends, strangers, bosses and underlings, family etc,
    • Besides people, there are other factors directly influencing motivation such as Compensation systems; Feedback gathering / receiving models; Time period needed for the task completion; Managerial and leadership styles etc.
    • Some tasks are never-ending, so alternative motivators should be available in those.

Can you think of a person or organization, that could benefit from this? Share it with them…