What truly motivates, or, more importantly, de-motivates your staff? GIANT question, right?

The range of coffee available or the weekly #beerOclock has no real impact on true motivation for employees. These things are great for productivity, but aren’t these two the same thing?

In this blog, Giant Campus Headboy, Danny Windsor, looks at why we should pay as much attention to employee motivations as we do to productivity. The two go hand in hand, and if we can achieve the motivation part – well, you get the point.

Let’s answer the obvious outright. Productivity and motivation, although linked, are intrinsically different to achieve as an employer. For example; you work on a meatpacking production line. The system and your input as part of it are regarded as productive (ie. you processed more packs of chicken then last year). However, a rousing team talk by the manager in the morning isn’t going to lead to any more chicken being packed. What about money? In this environment, a bonus of ‘price per chicken’ might increase the yield.

So, we can use tools, processes and money to make people more productive. But how do we make them want to be there in the first place – to get more than just ‘chicken’ out of them? We want an engaged and positive employee who actively participates in the work environment. Who wouldn’t want to wake up on Monday morning and be excited about the day ahead?

When we look at jobs that require creative conceptual thinking, when we are looking for engagement in the workplace, then carrot and stick (if you do this then you get this) ideologies often fail. You only have to look at Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (a well-used theory) to see that human motivation is built on having a safe secure environment. But it’s only the foundations. The lesson here is to pay people enough so they aren’t worried about the wolf at the door.

Once money is off the table, what else can we do?

As noted by Dan Pink in his book ‘Drive’, there are three things that lead to higher levels of motivation amongst employees. These things don’t have to cost a lot of money and should be achievable for every business type.

Purpose, mastery, self-direction. I’m going to explore these themes and how they impact on my own motivations and management style.


First up, purpose.

Employees nowadays can be choosy when it comes to who they work for. Businesses have realised that in order to attract and keep the best staff, they need a transcendent purpose that makes it worth coming into work for.

This purpose should be one other than profit. A few years ago I found myself working in a struggling NHS service. I was so far removed from the patient that I lost track of what the purpose of my role was. I needed something that made a bigger impact on society, so I moved my skills to a palliative care hospice. Seeing patients every day, and the heroes that are the care staff gave me a greater purpose for being there. I would see patients and families come and go, and although I didn’t directly provide them care, the commercial work I was doing enabled the hospice to operate. Purpose is key.

If all you focus on is the bottom line, then expect your staff to lose interest. Give them a bigger cause to fight for. Yes, it is easy to highlight the purpose of a charity, but what about a commercial private business like Giant Campus? We saw a real need for small businesses to up their digital game. We saw a gap forming between the online performance of big and small companies. It seemed the bigger the budget the better the results, and although this is true, it doesn’t have to be the only way. Our purpose here at Giant Campus is to spread information and skills for a world that is only going to become more and more digital. To support businesses to grow using the power of the internet. We care passionately about digital, so spreading the word and supporting others is our purpose. Better than just focusing on profits, right?


Next up is mastery.

Mastery is the act of getting better at something. It’s the reason that people learn to play musical instruments. Why do they do it? It doesn’t make economic sense, and it won’t find them a mate to continue the human race, so why, as humans, do we like to learn new things? Mastery is one of the most powerful motivations we have as employers.

Not everything needs to a be a £1,000 training course. Mentoring and guiding, as well as providing time and space for your teams to grow, will create an intrinsic motivation for being there. You see it in football often. A certain player wants to go to a certain club to play for a certain manager. Not for the money, but for the opportunity to develop and ‘grow’ as a player.

Make sure you treat the development of your people with as much importance as you do the profits. Give them an area of weakness to develop. Let them bring some of their outside skills into the mix. Let them show you what they can do with this new knowledge.

Having always worked in an educational setting, learning is as important as breathing to me. We have a saying here at Giant Campus: “Learning comes first, digital comes second”. This ensures we focus on the learning side of what we do. We let the guys at Sleeping Giant Media take care of the digital, they know their stuff. So how best can we enable the learning?

Another thing to note here is the JEEP notion – Just Enough Education to Perform. Sometimes we feel intimidated to ‘power up’ our staff in case they look for a job elsewhere, or realise their ‘true potential’ and continuously ask for more money. I don’t know about you, but I’m not naive enough to think my staff will stay here until the day they retire. I want them to grow and become the best version of who they are. I expect one day they will be presented with an opportunity, and I will feel just as proud as they do when they continue forward on their career journey. I hear this a lot: “What if I train my staff and they leave?”. Well, I pose an even more significant question – “What if we don’t train our staff, and they stay?”


Last, but not least, self-direction.

Now, this one can often be the scariest for a manager to provide his or her people. “If my staff have self-direction, then what’s the point of me?” I hear you ask. Self-direction, for me, is my biggest motivation for working. Micromanage me and I’m off – it’s pretty simple. Your staff are the same. Traditional notions of management run foul of this ideology. Micromanaging is great for compliance, but if you want conceptual, creative thinking from your teams then allowing them a little self-direction can go a long way. It’s the difference between telling someone to do something and asking for their input on how ‘we’ can do something. It’s as simple as that.

Make sure the parameters are in place, but how they deliver their work should be down to them to design. You will find engagement for processes and systems increases if the teams themselves have come up with the framework in which they operate. I mentioned earlier my role in the NHS and how disillusioned I had become with a lack of purpose. Another big part of my decision to leave was the fact that self-direction was being removed under the regime of a new manager. I understand managers like an element of control, but nothing motivates your staff more than the ability to dictate (to some degree) what their working day looks like.

“Do you actually get any work done here?”

Easier said than done right?

The motivations we discuss here of purpose, mastery and self-direction are also great tools for temporary staff or projects teams that you don’t directly manage. I mean, you can hardly offer them more money, so take a look at what else you can do to build that motivation for being at work in the first place. With that, you will see increases in morale, productivity, and eventually your bottom line.

At Sleeping Giant Media we are lucky to have free refreshments, a pool table, a ball-pit, great tech to work on, seaside views and unlimited annual leave. We see these things as rewards for working as hard as we do, not as a reason for coming to work in the first place. Staff are not stupid, they can see through gimmicks.

I’m often asked: “Do you actually get any work done here?”, and I always say the same thing back: “This is without a doubt the hardest working, most highly productive organisation I have ever had the privilege of working for”. I do it not because of the perks, but because of the intrinsic motivations that I have to be here and to try my best.