Audit Advantage: Motivation, the Force Within

Audit Advantage: Motivation, the Force Within


‘Good things come to those who wait, better things come to those who go out and get them’, Anon.

Motivation: what is it?

Motivation’, we use the term glibly, loosely, habitually.  We speak of motivating our teams to perform, to hit ever-tortuous deadlines within ever-tougher budgets. And we talk of motivating ourselves to persevere with a diet, stick to the training schedule for a half marathon or even get up in the morning!  But what do we actually mean, and what are we really talking about, as we carelessly toss around this millennium panacea; what actually is motivation?

Motivation is, in fact, a process. It initiates, drives and sustains us to follow a course and reach our destination. Motivation is what causes us to take action, whether to eat to assuage hunger or to stay late to meet that deadline! And motivation is what keeps us going as we encounter obstacles and setbacks along the way, testing the strongest resilience.

Motivation: why do we need it?

In reality we often use the term motivation to describe why we do something. The human condition holds that simply having a goal on its own is not always enough; there has to be an incentive behind that goal. Losing 10lbs might sound an appealing target but it’s what it means that provides the motivation – better health and fitness, getting into a favourite pair of jeans or the promise of a more aesthetically pleasing silhouette perhaps! In everyday life and work our biggest challenge is likely to be sticking with an intention long enough to reach our purpose and that’s where motivation, by providing the ‘why’, offers up the fuel to drive us on.

And it’s not just about personal motivation of course; a motivated workforce is imperative to achieving business performance objectives, team goals, and productivity targets and to creating an engaged, fulfilled and mutually beneficial culture.

Motivation: how do I get it?

Daniel Goleman, seminal architect of the concept of Emotional Intelligence, unpacks motivation into four core components: personal drive, commitment, initiative and optimism. Check out our series The Resilient Auditor for more on these and their importance. In the meantime, let’s take a whistle-stop tour through some practical tips to courting and inspiring motivation.

  • Begin with the end in mind. Do you know what the end goal is? What does success look like? Can you visualise the ultimate achievement? This applies equally for self and team motivation, start by investing some time in engaging your imagination and setting a clear, alluring objective.
  • Find the motivator. It’s not always obvious and it’s not always easy but if you can find a why, articulate the benefits and express these with passion, then you have powerful means of generating excitement and inspiration and harnessing drive and energy to get started and keep going.
  • Carrot or stick? Passion and excitement are not the only drivers. Motivators that express what you don’t want can be similarly effective in some instances. Letting down the team by blowing the audit budget might be a deterrent for one while another might get more fired up by beating budget. Psychological research does tend to point us towards the benefits of positive motivation. Not only is it more sustainable, better for mood and wellbeing, it can also pack an energising rush generated from the buzz of achievement. But ‘the stick’, that’s negative motivation, all about the avoidance of pain, can have its place too. Fear of being sacked might be a little extreme but the shame of an incomplete management report could well do the trick.
  • External or internal? External motivators are often rewards – promotion, recognition, praise, financial benefits and bonuses. But we can’t always rely on these so it is important to develop internal motivation over which we have influence. This is about finding, within yourself, the drive to get something done. It might be professional pride, personal gratification or an innate sense of fulfilment. Internal motivation goes hand in hand with finding the ‘why’ and visualising the goal; it’s about identifying personal ‘want’, a powerful driver and highly effective in building resilience and self-sufficiency.
  • Be the change you want to see. Whether it’s ‘faking it till you make it’ or acting as a role model for the rest of the team, do remember that behaviours and attitudes are contagious. Sometimes just getting started is all the motivation you need, try it to build momentum and generate self-perpetuating energy.
  • Find your power. There’s nothing more demotivating than the feeling of having no influence, no control, no choice. But to get motivated, be willing to dig deep; what is there that is within your control? There’s always something, however small. Don’t forget this as a leader or manager of teams; seek to develop a culture of autonomy and agency. It might simply be giving a direct report a small choice – a say in their tasks, some input into how they do their job. A little power goes a long way where motivation is concerned. Check out Daniel Pink’s ‘Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us’.
  • ‘We are all in this together’. Harness the synergy of the team and tap into the holistic power of the group. How do you and your individual players identify with the team as a whole? How invested are you all in the team goals and success? Sheer ‘belonging’ plays its part in creating a strong motivating force all of its own.

And the final tip is simply about self-belief. I’ve used this quote before but in the realms of motivation it couldn’t be truer. In the words of Henry Ford:

“Whether you think you can, or you think you can't - you're right.”


Which topic would you like to read about next month?  Look over the list of topics in the original Audit Advantage article here and let us know your choice for the next topic we should cover.

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