3 Musts for Motivating Your Team: Ask, Listen, and Learn

Published: Sep 02, 2021
Modified: Apr 08, 2024


As the workplace continues to adapt to rapidly advancing technology and a world of uncertainties, including the looming threat of coronavirus variants, even the best and brightest workers often struggle to stay motivated. Recently, in July 2021, American Management Association (AMA) reached out to its members and customers across the country to gauge how they were adapting to their new workplace realities. Nearly 80% of survey participants stated that the skills required to do their jobs effectively have changed in the past two years. When asked to rank the specific areas they need to develop or improve, motivation was among the top five priorities.

In light of such challenges and stressors, what can managers do to keep their team motivated and eager to perform their work? A world leader in professional development for nearly a century, AMA has found that motivating performance starts with three musts for every manager: ask, listen, and learn what motivates team members, the people you depend on to work together to meet goals and deliver results.

Types of motivators

Applying a one-size-fits-all approach to motivation is pointless. Different employees have different needs, especially in today’s emerging remote or hybrid workplace and with today’s increasingly diverse workforce. So, it’s important for managers to ask people about their needs and priorities, really listen to their answers, and learn what they expect and respond to best. While motivators vary, there are three basic types: pre-motivators, external motivators, and internal motivators.


Pre-motivators are the foundation of motivation, the fundamentals most professionals expect when they take a job. They include good pay, quality colleagues and leaders, good benefits, and safe working conditions. If a workplace lacks these essential conditions and components, then managers will find it extremely difficult to motivate people.

External motivators

External motivators are factors controlled by the organization, if not the manager. They include promotions and job titles, financial bonuses, and assorted perks and rewards, ranging from restaurant gift certificates to college tuition reimbursement. Another external motivator is a nice work environment, whether the traditional window office or inviting remote workers on-site for a monthly catch-up meeting over a catered lunch.

Internal motivators

Internal motivators are unique to each individual employee. For some people, an internal motivator could be doing interesting, enjoyable work with opportunities for self-expression and creativity; for others, it’s being offered a stretch project that showcases their strengths and leadership potential. Giving team members control over their work location and work schedule and, if possible, which assignments they choose, is also a powerful motivator for many people.

Making a practice of asking, listening, and learning what motivates people is vital. But it isn’t enough to ensure a team’s success. Managers must also become aware of and commit to avoiding de-motivators. Even highly effective external and internal motivators can be canceled out by words and actions that crush people’s motivation. Common demotivators include harsh criticism, making assumptions about people based on stereotypes, and failure to recognize and give a deserving individual credit for their exceptional work.

In today’s workplace and world, managers face increased challenges and pressures to keep their teams motivated. Yet, even with added job demands and while under lots of stress, people will remain motivated to doing the best job possible when managers take the time to ask, listen, and learn about their needs and take the care to treat them with respect.

About AMA

American Management Association (AMA) is globally recognized as a leader in professional development. For nearly 100 years, it has helped millions of people bring about positive change in their performance in order to improve results. AMA’s learn-by-doing instructor-led methods, extensive content, and flexible learning formats are proven effective—and constantly evolve to meet the changing needs of individuals and organizations. To learn more, visit www.amanet.org.