How to motivate people when you can’t give them a rise

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Motivation without a pay rise
Motivation without a pay rise

This is not yet another article on the relative merits and demerits of money as a motivator. That has been done to death.

I want instead to face up the reality of the current situation and acknowledge that pay rises for the next year or so are going to be fewer and further between and even then not at the levels of recent years.

It is organisations that make the grand statements about pay freezes, but individual managers who are left the task of fostering motivation afterwards.

Let’s begin with the basics.

It’s difficult to get people to do anything at work if they don’t really want to.

Motivation remains one of the most important components to get right when managing people

Alongside coaching people to achieve reach their potential we need to ensure they are motivated to do so

For the longest time, fear was the main motivation tool, from the whipping of slaves to the beating of stable boys. More recently variations of the carrot and stick have been favoured. Money and promotions are used as carrots and disfavour and loss of income are used as sticks.

But perhaps we need tools more sophisticated than those we use to motivate donkeys?

Consider this list of ‘motivators’

Money, Incentives, Status, , Holidays, Bonuses, A worthwhile job, Self-esteem, Pride, Self-actualisation, Achievement, Fun, Getting better, Self-development, Socialising, Praise, Career prospects, Recognition, Belonging, Safety, Security

What do you notice?

What about now?








Career prospects





A worthwhile job



Self-actualisation, Achievement


Getting better




The left hand column contains external motivators. They need to be supplied by somebody else. Without them there is no motivation but by themselves they are not enough to really motivate people.

We also need the internal motivators listed in the right hand column. These keep people motivated over a much longer timeframe and are more readily influenced by individual managers.

The various internal motivators can be summarised and arranged on a triangle:





Performance is about the motivation that comes from the prospect of doing a job and doing it well; drawing on people’s potential and letting them play to their strengths

Learning is about much more than training and qualifications; it’s about giving people work that is interesting and varied

Enjoyment is about providing work that is intrinsically enjoyable not just arranging team nights out.

However, if we focus on any one of these key sources of internal motivation at the expense of the other two, there will always be problems sooner or later.

Any one can be placed at the top of the triangle but we always need the other two

For example…

Too much studying without an opportunity to act of what we’ve learnt becomes frustrating and learning suffers.

Too much enjoyment becomes boring after a while and we don’t enjoy our time as much.

Too high a focus on performance lessens the chance to learn and enjoy which makes sustaining high levels of performance more difficult.

Case Study

One of our client organisations required its production line employees to spot faulty parts.

This was not being done well and targets were being missed.

Managements response was effectively “Do better, or else” (Performance)

However, in an effort to implement the other elements of internal motivation, they arranged quality circles to discuss how improvements to the fault finding process could be achieved (Learning) and also a competition for finding faulty parts with fun prizes for the winners (Enjoyment)

Naturally, motivation and consequently performance improved

I’m certainly not arguing that external motivators are not useful or relevant; quite the opposite, but as a line manager I recommend coaching around the opportunities for Performance, Learning and Enjoyment, particularly when financial rewards are scarce.

“True motivation comes from achievement (performance), personal development (learning), and job satisfaction (Enjoyment)” Frederick Herzberg (and he knew a thing or two about this stuff)

Matt Somers

Matt Somers

Matt Somers is the UK’s leading trainer of managers as coaches. His coaching skills training programmes, books, articles and seminars have helped thousands of managers achieve outstanding results through their people.

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