How to Motivate People to Get Big Goals Over the Finish Line

Do you wonder why your team sometime just can’t get the important stuff done?

You think it’s been made crystal clear how important it is to get those goals delivered. Everyone seemed so enthusiastic about it, but somehow that enthusiasm diminished. As each month rolled over, so did those objects. With little progress meetings start to get awkward as frustration and defensiveness kick-in.

In these COVID-19 times this issue is compounded, with major disruption, people working remotely it’s been so difficult to get on with improving the business.

What Stops People From Getting on With it?

So WHY don’t people complete what they have started? WHY do people end up procrastinating? and WHY don’t people shout-out, when something is not going to get completed?

Wouldn’t it be amazing if people just grabbed those goals and delivered them?  However, it seems other things always get in the way.

Despite what people say, day to day issues and being too busy are NOT the reason improvement initiatives fizzle out and fall by the wayside. The truth is that people find those tasks easy, it is a comfort blanket and people can and will use them as a distraction or an excuse.

People Are Not Too busy or Too Lazy They are Just Scared

Ultimately the real reason stopping them from getting on with the big goals is fear. They are just scared, scared of not knowing how to do it, scared to ask, scared to expose themselves, scared they will fail. It is much easier to deal with something easy rather that crack on with the large-scale goal.

Bonuses and Traditional Motivational Techniques are not then answer

Traditional management style has inherently used the carrot and stick approach, people rewarded or incentivised when performing well, and punished when performing badly.

In Daniel H. Pink, book, “Drive -The surprising truth what motivates us”, he points out that there is a huge mis-match between what science knows and what business does.

Leaders use rewards, expecting them to increase a person’s motivation, when unintentionally they can undermine a person’s intrinsic motivation. In Daniel Pinks book Drive, he also refers to a LSE study, where 11 Nobel laureates in economics analysed 51 studies of cooperate pay performance plans, the conclusion, “We find that financial incentives …. Can result in a negative impact overall.”  There are many more studies that have similar findings.

Fear paralyses the ability to take the long-term view…

Fear of retribution, fear of failure, fear of humiliation, and even fear of losing their job, these are all common fears. Particularly in today’s climate, fear is running at an all-time high.

Anxiety activates the most basic human instinct, the fight or flight mechanism. Fight or flight, drives people to react to the short term perceived threat, paralysing the ability to take the long-term view. We often see this manifesting in negativity, confrontation, finger pointing, deflection, or procrastination and indecisiveness.

Be Wary of Narrow Goal Focus

Achieving that goal at any cost is a behaviour we have all seen, and often people are rewarded for this behaviour.  How-ever leaders should approach this with a large degree of caution.

Narrow minded solo operators may gain short term benefits, but this working practice will not deliver a large step improvement or a large-scale goal. In-fact using a carrot & stick, heroes & zeros approach, promotes a toxic type of behaviour, it creates divide, mistrust, and resentment. Nothing destroys momentum and enthusiasm more than, low morale and team spirit.

Volkswagen diesel scandal – and the narrow goal driven culture   

We have all heard of the Volkswagen’s 2015 Diesel testing scandal. Volkswagen cheated diesel emission testing and marketed cars as “Clean Diesel”, with some cars emitting up to 12 times more than the legal limit. Over 50 employees from various levels, executive to technician admitted to knowing about the cheat.

One Volkswagen executive said “many of Volkswagen’s employees may have remained quiet about the emissions-cheating issue for so long – even if they didn’t want to, is the company’s bonus system. Which is unusually generous to all employees, from the assembly line to the CEO, and rewards consensus. Volkswagen pays bonuses not only for individual performance and company performance but also goes the extra step of rewarding team performance, he says, which creates financial incentive not to offer dissenting opinions.”

People not concerned with the periphery, looking narrowly at meeting the goals and not feeling safe to speak out, cost Volkswagen of over $30 Billion. According to research from MIT scientists , an estimated 1,200 people will lose as much as a decade of their life as a result of excess emissions generated between 2008 and 2015 by affected cars, sold in Germany. The damage to trust and reputation, will not be mended quickly.

Shortcuts come back to bite..

This is an extreme example of the consequences of a narrow goal focused culture, however narrow focus is a common cause of issues seen in many organisations. We all have witnessed those times that a shortcut came back to bite, after a product was released before complete test or inspection, or someone by-passing the correct process, just to get it out the door before month end. Only to be followed by the angry customer to deal with and a huge amount of time, effort, and money to resolve.

Trust, Transparency and Long-Term Focus Nurtures Innovation & Motivation

Innovation and change rely on the motivation and engagement of people; it requires a team of people to pick a goal up collectively and see it through to the end. This means everyone working together coherently and openly.

Intrinsic Motivation – This natural innate human drive

Humans have a natural intrinsic motivation, we do things because we enjoy it, like to be challenged and we need to have a purpose.

We see this in small children, they will learn to speak, walk, ride a bike, spend hours creating in Lego, art and craft. They do not need rewards or punishments to do this, they do it because they have innate drive to create, learn and to overcome challenge.

As we grow into adults, we don’t lose this innate motivation, often it is our environment or culture that will stifle it, but it’s still there ready to be tapped into. Why do people learn to play a musical instrument, learn new languages, learn to dance or practice driving at the driving range? It is the intrinsic motivation and we all have it.

Daniel Pink, writes about the three ingredients required for intrinsic motivation,

Autonomy – The desire to direct our own lives

Having autonomy over their task, schedule, situation and environment. People who have this will feel secure, free and responsible.

Mastery – The urge to get better and better at something

Dedicating time to master their skills, working hard to improve, people who do this will exude passion, commitment and drive. You see it when an artist or engineer is in creational flow, the look in their eyes and how they get lost into the task.

Purpose – The yearning to do, what we do in service

There needs to be a reason, a WHY, it isn’t enough just to be told to do, people need to understand the bigger picture. It is the reasons bigger than themselves, that have been found to be most effective for motivation.

Getting Over the Finish Line

To get that programme over the finish line a business needs an environment where people can focus on goals and consider the bigger picture, where people can learn and make mistakes without fear of repercussions, an environment where positive team behaviour is encouraged rather than individual competitiveness. This is the key to a sustainable improvement culture.

To inspire these qualities people need to connect with the big picture, the company vision & purpose, and believe they all have a role to play in this.


Leaders can create the environment and the conditions where intrinsic motivation can thrive. An environment that inspires passion, creativity, engagement and drive.

Building intrinsic motivation into the day to day running of a business!

In my next post, “5 Tools to Motivate People to Get Stuff Done”, I have compiled a list of 5 tools that you can implement into your business, each one selected to create the conditions where intrinsic motivation can flourish. These tools are a practical way to free people from the narrow tunnel view, to unleash their innate drive to get stuff done!

This article is from this series of posts on how to run a successful Continuous Improvement Programme. If you want a Continuous Improvement program that will help you to reduce costs, reduce waste, save time, improve quality, whatever your operational objectives are this series can help you.

Through the series I will using my 3 core pillars, the 3 P’s. This post is part of the first P, Planning the second P is Programme, which is a framework, process and templates for delivering improvement and the third P is Perform, this will help you to inspire people and guide you through how to get people to deliver results.

A bit about me

I help Manufacturing and Engineering Businesses achieve their operational performance goals, reduce costs, increase profit, and eliminate performance issues.



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