Same storm, different boats: How to keep your people motivated

Staring out to sea

‘We are not all in the same boat. We are all in the same storm.’

The writer Damian Barr used this analogy to convey the wealth inequalities that the coronavirus has highlighted. From an HR perspective, it can also be used to shed a light on the vastly different experiences we are living through in the workplace right now.

For many leaders, navigating the world of work during a global pandemic will have started with a lot of crisis work such as moving teams to virtual, following short-term project plans or managing the impact of furlough on their staff. But while this has weathered the immediate upheaval of COVID-19, leaders now need to keep their people motivated to solve the bigger, newer problems their business may be facing.

To provide this motivation, leaders will need to acknowledge what impact COVID-19 has had on their people’s day to day lives. For some individuals, their daily routine will have shifted monumentally from a full-time job to being furloughed during a nation-wide lockdown. At the other end of the spectrum, those still ‘on the pitch’ will be juggling a multitude of projects with fewer colleagues than ever available to help them out. Both will be experiencing some degree of change during a time which feels crucial to whether businesses are able to bounce forward or not.

As a leader, tuning into the varying needs of your employees is now critical to maintain their motivation over the coming weeks, regardless of how your company has been affected by COVID-19. In order to do this, leaders need to understand what motivation is, and what determines it.


key factors influence our intrinsic motivation.

How can we influence motivation?

Motivation is when we are “moved to do something”. It is complex and different for every individual, but it always impacts how you feel and perform at work. Motivation comes in two forms: internal and external. Internal motivation means that you are motivated to take on a task for the intrinsic reward of completing it. An example of this could be completing an economics degree due to a passion for learning. External motivation on the other hand is when you are motivated to take on a task to earn external rewards or avoid punishment. An example of this would be completing an economics degree with the aim of making lots of money.

Research suggests that internal motivation leads to higher persistence, creativity, and wellbeing than external motivation. As leaders right now, it may be difficult for you to offer your team external motivators, but you still have the opportunity to support them in developing their internal motivation.

At Lane4, we use a framework based on psychological research to map out the determinants of internal motivation. There are four key components: autonomy, belonging, competence and meaning[1]. Each of us needs different amounts of each of these, but all four are key in determining motivation.

Autonomy: a sense of being in control so that behaviour is self-determined.
Belonging: a sense of fitting in and security.
Competence: a feeling of mastery and accomplishment.
Meaning: a sense of understanding and purpose.

Research suggests that internal motivation leads to higher persistence, creativity, and wellbeing than external motivation.

What can you do as a leader?

As a leader, you need to determine how you can provide your team with each of these four factors during COVID-19. This will look very different depending on how your business is being affected by the pandemic and will need to be tailored to the personal needs of your team. Some questions to ask yourself are:

  • How have the lives of each of my people changed since the start of COVID-19?
  • How can I motivate my team right now?
  • How can I contract with my team around what they need to maintain motivation?
Planning on post it notes

Want to find out more?

Our Managing Director, Adrian Moorhouse, and Consultant Director, Paul Jewitt-Harris, hosted a webinar about maintaining motivation in your people: watch here, or read the blog version here.

[1] Lane4 Model of Motivation. Based on Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2000). Self-determination theory and the facilitation of intrinsic motivation, social development, and well-being. American psychologist55(1), 68. Thomas, K. W. (2009). Intrinsic motivation at work: What really drives employee engagement. Berrett-Koehler Publishers.