Blog & Insight

How to motivate others

In recent posts from the archives I've looked at understanding your own values, how values can get too big for their boots, why values don't inherently drive right behaviour and why I think business values don't really exist.

Which will certainly help you to understand what motivates you, how you can use values to motivate you when you're a little flat, what might be holding you back and what can be done to get back on track.

How then can you use this knowledge about values to motivate others. After all, if you've got your own unique hierarchy of values so will your stakeholders. Which means, if you're not careful, it's a little too easy to assume other people think like you do and communicate with them in ways that work for you - not what works for them.

Remember values are what you move towards or away from in your life. They're outcomes you will prioritise over other outcomes - in that if one activity will give you success and another connection you'll be most likely to undertake the activity that most closely helps you meet your values.

Values are also what your stakeholders are looking to have met. They too will, therefore, move towards things that will help them meet their values.

For example, a value of safety might mean someone doesn't want anything in their life to change because it's that lack of change that makes them feel safe. Where as someone with a value of adventure might mean they're constantly seeking change.

When you're trying to influence these two people what you say will therefore need to be adapted to align with their values.

If you have the time to spend with someone you can ask what's important to them about the work they're doing and, as I demonstrated for your own hierarchy, find out their values and then adapt your communication accordingly.

You're rarely, however, going to have time for that much preparation for every stakeholder, and that's where David McClelland gives us an easier way to think about values and that's to define them as being a combination of the following:

  • Achievement / Affiliation / Influence
  • Towards / Away from

Which means most stakeholders have a preference for, and are predominantly motivated by, one of the following:

  1. Towards achievement
  2. Away from not achieving
  3. Towards affiliation
  4. Away from not affiliating
  5. Towards influence
  6. Away from not having any influence

I accept that many leaders and stakeholders in our organisations will be motivated towards achievement (1). I do, however, think we often underestimate even those stakeholders motivated away from failure (2) never mind those who just don't want to be doing it all on their own (4).

Some professions lends themselves to thinking in certain ways, and therefore may help you determine what someone might be motivated by - eg I'd usually start with away from language for finance and audit and notice what I notice about their reaction.

For other people it's about noticing the words they use, or their reaction when you use words, to enable you to get a sense of their preference.


Are they motivated by achieving? In which case you will hear them say, and need to use, words such as:

  • Towards: goals, objectives, outcomes, vision, progress, mission, goals, success, results and so on.
  • Away from: failure, missing deadlines, getting it wrong, delays, non compliance, waste, poor service and so on.


Are they motivated by affiliation? In which case they'll be more attentive and enthused when you use words such as:

  • Towards: team work, connection, recognition, collaboration, harmony, inclusion, rapport, sharing and so on.
  • Away from: isolation, working in silos, being ignored, rejected, misunderstanding, indifference and so on


Are they motivated by power or influence? In which case the follow words will increase the chances of them listening to what you're saying:

  • Towards: control, power, influence lead, follow, impact, affect, autonomy and so on.
  • Away from: loss of control, weakness, ineffectiveness, defeat, humiliation, compromise and so on?

Remembering to notice if it is influence over their own life or influence over others that motivates them the most?

Even writing these lists reminded me of my preferences. I could write list all day for affiliation and power isn't too bad :). Yet for Achievement I could only initially think of one away from achievement word - failing!

A few words of warning: having run a breakout on this in Procurement stakeholder engagement sessions many many times what frequently happens is:

  • If you're towards motivated you find it very difficult to talk in away from language (after all, isn't success the same as not failing and it's so much more positive too.)

It's why I now only ask groups in breakouts to sell their services using away from language - because it gets the model into muscle memory quicker. Otherwise I just get a whole load of towards achievement - and we're all very good at doing that already!

This webinar I gave for Future Purchasing, entitled Finding motivation in unprecedented times, also shares more about this model (from 11.33).

How are your values impacting the language you use, and what changes do you need to make to ensure you're tapping into the values of your stakeholders to improve the impact of your communications?

If you'd like me to run a webinar or a series of small group clinics for your team (Procurement or otherwise) to explore adapting communication styles to suit the preferences of your stakeholders do call today +44(0)7770 538159 or email

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© Alison Smith
VAT Registration: 224 5001 58
Registered in Scotland, Registration Number: SC457105
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