One of the key things to know, in deciding how to motivate your people is ‘what is your Psychological Distance?’
As a Project Leader, one of your critical jobs is keeping your team motivated. We all learn about motivation – some more than others. And, I’m sure you have learned loads about how to do it.
Different types of motivation work at different times. Sometimes you try to be inspirational. You want to enchant your team with a vision for why they’re doing the project. At others, you want to support individuals with guidance and feedback.
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Some recent research by Stanford assistant professor, Nir Halevy, puts motivation in a new light. He is looking at ‘psychological distance’ between workplace colleagues.
Psychological distance is about how far away we feel from another person. It can be linked to physical distance, cultural difference, simple familiarity, or hierarchical distance, for example.
His research suggests that Psychological Distance is a factor in positive motivation. Motivation is most effective when the level of reality or abstractness correlates to the psychological closeness or distance.
The project team member will be strongly motivated when his team leader gives praise and feedback. But if she gives him a visionary talk about why they are working on the project, that will be less effective.
However, if the Sponsor gives that visionary talk, it will work. But your team members won’t find advice from the sponsor as motivating.
You’re a bit of an in-betweener. So, if you know and frequently chat with team members, you’re better focusing on more personal and material motivation. Use your sponsor to deliver the big picture.
Do you manage through your team leaders and rarely speak with individual team members? Keep your motivation at a more strategic level. Use your team leaders to give team members developmental feedback. Mentoring and performance appraisal relationships work best where the rank difference is small.
Does this mean you can’t deliver a strategic vision to a whole team? Or give advice to a team member you’ve only just met? Of course not. Use your judgment.
But it does mean that you can better focus the balance of your motivation efforts.
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Dr Mike Clayton is one of the most successful and in-demand project management trainers in the UK. He is author of 14 best-selling books, including four about project management. He is also a prolific blogger and contributor to ProjectManager.com and Project, the journal of the Association for Project Management. Between 1990 and 2002, Mike was a successful project manager, leading large project teams and delivering complex projects. In 2016, Mike launched OnlinePMCourses.
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