3 Rules for Motivating Your Employees

How to Motivate Your Employees

Maria walked confidently to the stage as her company applauded. Her own direct reports were genuinely thrilled to see their leader accept the company’s annual award for the top performing team.

As she stared out over the crowd in the hotel conference room, Maria’s memory drifted back to the team she had inherited nine months ago. A team caught in a cycle of low engagement and turnover. For years, they seemed one elusive step away from everything running smoothly. Today, that same team was a model for the company: internally respected for their commitment, performance, and follow through. Now, shaking the president’s congratulatory hand, Maria graciously accepted the award on behalf of her team.

How did she manage to turn things around? Maria used three rules to change everything for her team.


Managing people has perhaps never been a more daunting task. This is true whether you are a CEO, the leader of a small department, or a parent. Even managing ourselves has become increasingly complex and difficult in a modern world filled with endless possibilities and opportunities.

From where will clarity emerge?

The answer is from a deep and resounding understanding of our purpose, both as people and as organizations. The modern manager is responsible for helping an organization become the-best-version-of-itself. The major objective of this role has never changed. Only now, the modern manager understands that achieving this objective is largely dependent on a team of employees dedicated to becoming a-better-version-of-themselves.

Nothing motivates us quite like the pursuit of a dream.

The key to building such a team is to start with your employees’ dreams. Each of us has dreams that could bring inspiration, laughter, or even tears. The human ability to enter into a richly imagined dream and then apply ourselves in the present to make that dream a reality is an astounding gift. Nothing motivates us quite like the pursuit of a dream.

Maria realized, as all modern managers eventually must, that it was unrealistic for her to expect her team members to achieve great things for the company if they were not achieving great things for themselves. The personal and professional development of her employees was inseparable, and the place to start was dreams.

Take the First Step

Get to know your employees and their dreams. Set aside a half hour to meet one-on-one with each of your direct reports. Before the meeting, ask them to brainstorm a list of twenty-five dreams. They can be personal or professional dreams. Work together in the meeting to identify a dream each employee wants to pursue.


Maria understood that the best way to invest in the growth of the company was to invest in the personal growth of the people on her team. She realized the startling reality that if you play a role in teaching your employees how to manage their money, they will manage your money more effectively and be less distracted by personal financial concerns. If you play a role in helping your employees adopt a healthy lifestyle, your health insurance costs will be reduced, and your employees will be more effective because they are healthier. The examples are endless.

Maria helped each person on her staff create a personal strategic plan. Starting with their dreams, she helped each team member understand traditional strategic planning methods and exercises and apply them to the different areas of their life. In the end, each team member had a three-year personal strategic plan with specific and measurable critical success factors.

If you want to engage employees in corporate dreams and goals, you must first engage them in their own personal dreams and goals.

Taking her team through the process of strategic planning and making it personal caused their involvement in corporate strategic planning to take on a whole new meaning. By teaching them the importance of strategic planning in their own lives, Maria helped her team members understand its importance in the life of their company.

If you want to engage employees in corporate dreams and goals, you must first engage them in their own personal dreams and goals.

Take the Second Step

Hold a team meeting where you break down your company’s strategic planning process. Give an example of how the process was used in one of your company’s successful initiatives. Then, model strategic planning in your personal life using one of your own dreams as an example. Invite your team to use these principles to develop their own personal strategic plan in pursuit of the dream identified in step one.


As the personal growth of her people began to reap benefits for the company, Maria asked her boss to invest in a dream manager. His first question: What’s a dream manager?

Maria explained that the dream manager would be responsible for helping employees recognize, plan for, and achieve their dreams. The dream manager would do for the company what Maria had done for her team.

When a senior manager objected that people will leave if we help them reach for their dreams, Maria knew better. Maria knew the employees would stay because, for many of them, this will be the first time anyone has ever really sat with them and helped them map out a future.

Nothing motivates us more than our dreams, and nothing will bring you a bigger return on your investment.

Once the company invested in becoming a place where employees could work towards accomplishing their dreams, no job was a dead end. Instead, each job became a stepping- stone. Maria’s people now know that if three years from now they are still doing the same job, they’ll have made enormous progress in other areas of their lives—and they will link that personal progress to their job at the company.

Maria motivated her team to greatness by creating a connection between the fulfillment of their dreams and their work. She knew she could not keep her people in their current jobs forever. But by investing in their dreams, she convinced them to work hard in a role for multiple years, improving the company’s entire business model.

Take the Third Step

Commit your time to supporting your employees as they develop strategic plans toward their dreams. Set aside a few “office hours” where your door is open for direct reports to ask for feedback and support. Down the road, your company will benefit from investing in a dream manager, but the initial fruits must come from your own investment of time.

Management is about getting work done through other people. You will not succeed if your people are not motivated. Employees work harder when the pursuit of their personal dreams intersects with the objectives of their company. Start with their dreams. Invest in their dreams. Nothing motivates us more than our dreams, and nothing will bring you a bigger return on your investment.

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