The context of motivation in the workplace in the present business environment, is one of drives for increased efficiency, cost reduction and organisational restructuring.
Motivation in the workplace: balancing organisational and individual interests
The problem arises when the drive for organisational performance is not aligned with the personal needs and drivers of the workforce.
To successfully achieve motivation in the workplace requires the balancing of enterprise performance requirements with individual fulfilment needs.
The literature of motivation research from Maslow onwards has highlighted the complexity and multi-faceted nature of human needs.
The process theories of motivation clearly showed that people need to understand how they will benefit. They need to buy into the process of what they are being asked to do, and they need to believe in the fairness of what their leaders and managers tell them.
Motivation in the workplace: rationality vs the emotional dimension
So, on the one hand we are rational beings focused on meeting what may be regarded as our survival needs – very loosely expressed in terms of pay and rations – and are prepared to enter into a Faustian pact with our employers on the basis of an initially perceived mutuality of interest.
But, on the other hand, the emotional dimension rapidly emerges as that initial perception of mutuality of interest rapidly dwindles as – especially in the current climate - we are expected to improve our performance, to produce more for no more [maybe less] money and often with less resources.
Transactional leadership focus
In my experience the commonest leadership style in many corporates [and especially in the UK] is essentially transactional in nature, that is, based on “getting the job done”, short-term and hard data focused, and supports the structures and systems that maximise efficiency and guarantee short-term profits.
This approach clearly works but it is short-term in focus.
Transformational rather than transactional leadership
An alternative to the typical transactional leadership prevalent in many corporates today is transformational leadership – a concept first brought to prominence by James MacGregor Burns in his book Leadership  – and one that is deeply resonant with the practise of inspirational motivation in the workplace.
Transformational leadership theory transcends transactional leadership and rather than describing a set of specific behaviours, it outlines an ongoing process by which "leaders and followers raise one another to higher levels of morality and motivation" [Leadership, p20].
Transformational leadership is all about values and meaning, and a purpose that transcends short-term goals and focuses on higher order needs.
Inspirational motivation in the workplace
The transformational leadership concept is supported by post Maslovian motivation research notably Herzberg, ERG theory and subsequent research and theories which highlight that for all our rationality we are primarily emotional creatures driven [in broad terms] by growth needs for achievement, recognition, personal development and personal growth.
Latest insights and understandings based on recent research from the field of neurology indicate that at the physiological level, we are quite literally “hardwired” for transcendence as well as survival:
"The brain has two primary functions that can be considered from either a biological or evolutionary perspective. These two functions are self-maintenance and self-transcendence. The brain performs both of these functions throughout our lives." Neuroscientist Dr. Andrew Newberg - Associate Professor in the Department of Radiology at the University of Pennsylvania.
Motivation in the workplace is all to do with energy
Another perspective from the field of quantum physics has shown that the universe is a single gigantic field of energy, and that this energy field is an undivided whole in a constant state of dynamic flux.
From this has emerged the understanding that everything is interconnected as part of that whole and every manifestation of "slowed down energy" that appears in the physical world as a "tangible something" remains at a sub atomic level simply as energy. Thus we as human beings can be regarded as energy beings.
We are energy beings functioning in an environment that is an energy field. So motivation in the workplace – or anywhere else for that matter – is essentially all to do with energy.
In practical terms this means energising, enthusing or inspiring people.
Current thinking in change leadership and management
This emphasis on the emotional dimension of motivation in the workplace is reflected in the work and focus of many current thought leaders in the world of change management and change leadership, and who are now speaking vociferously about the importance of the emotional dimension of leadership and the need to address the human dimension of change to motivate people.
Harnessing motivation in the workplace as source of sustainable competitive advantage
At the strategic level, the practical application of addressing the emotional dimension with this transformational leadership style is very powerful, and especially when it harnesses the emotional, aspirational and transcendent needs of the individual to generate genuine organisational sustainable competitive advantage.
He found that they all had a clear "workforce value proposition" outlining exactly what is expected of employees and exactly what they can expect in return from their employers.
Practising motivation in the workplace at a tactical level
At the day-to-day tactical management level this all boils down to finding out what matters to your people individually, as Dick Axelrod, the co-founder of US based Axelrod Group Inc [a consulting firm that pioneered the use of employee involvement to effect largescale organisational change] says:
"Despite the best of intentions, leaders are still employing change processes that produce disengagement. Creating an engaged organisation requires leaders to choose a strategy that, by its very nature engages people."
They also interpret life in different ways and are motivated by different things. A significant aspect of successful motivation in the workplace is to take full account of your people’s individual differences.
But not only are their drivers for motivation in the workplace different to yours - their thought processes are different as well.
Given that the typical Myers Briggs type of a business leader [ENTJ] is only shared by approximately 1.8% of the population [based on estimated percentages of the 16 types in the American population using inferential statistics based on a random sampling of 3009 people culled from a total pool of 16,000 in 1998] then less than 1 in 50 of your people will think in the same way you do.
Motivation in the workplace by translating vision and strategy into actionable steps
Although people will hear what you say when you outline your vision and strategy, most of them are not able to translate all that into productive purposeful action not because they are stupid or resistant but because the need practical support.
in practical terms this means hands-on detailed management in the specifics of how to do it, and especially during the early stages.
So often, leaders don't lead and managers don't manage. It is up to you to define and communicate those actionable steps, and to manage your people through the process.