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The Science Behind Motivating Your Staff

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 As a scientist, I’m not a fan of “how to” lists and advice that comes out of nowhere. Before I became an entrepreneur, I studied computer science and medicine, and worked as a researcher in virology and radiology. I learned how to form hypotheses, observe, analyze and draw conclusions. Later, when my friends and I founded a professional network for scientists, I applied this scientific method to my leadership style.


With the network, we convinced millions of researchers and scientists to change their ways and share their research online. In short, we disrupted a 300-year-old system. This isn’t done in a day, and it takes a highly motivated workforce to remain unperturbed by criticism and commit long-term. I’d like to share three ways how I learned to recognize and foster this motivation in my team.

1. Work with pragmatic optimists.

There’s one trait that all people I’ve loved to work with share. They’re pragmatic optimists. Pragmatic optimists are can-do people with an intrinsic positive outlook. They’re pragmatic because they back up their ideas by analyzing and testing them before they roll them out. They don’t see the world through rose-colored glasses, but they see a way to make it better.

They’re optimists because they’re relentless in the face of adversity and pivot until they find a solution. These people are motivated by the work itself. Pay raises and bonuses are just icing on the cake for them. They may not have the analytical skills they need for the job from the get-go, but their motivation makes them quick learners who are worth investing time and training in.

Pragmatic optimism, I found, is a character trait. But it's one that lingers in most people and can be fostered by a strong sense of mission and purpose, which brings me to my next point.

Related: Good Things Happen When You Put Employee Motivation First

2. Live your mission.

Every company is different, and what I’m saying here may not apply to your run-of-the mill business that’s just about making money. In the end though, the most successful entrepreneurs will probably say that their business isn’t just about being profitable, but about making a change. I’m not the only one who believes mission-driven people make the best employees. As a good scientist myself, I checked in on what other researchers have to say on the topic.

Bard Kuvaas, a management expert from the Norwegian Business School, says there’s a sweet spot when it comes to maximizing employee motivation. It’s the mission-driven companies who give their staff the autonomy to get their work done on their own that report the most motivated employees. That makes sense to me -- strict, micro-management is a surefire way to stifle anyone’s motivation.

Related: 3 Ways Better Than Money, Promotion of Recognition to Motivate Employees

3. Don’t be complacent.

Having a mission and a company that’s on the right track is a great start. But when the going gets good, the risk you’ll fall into complacency gets higher. To avoid losing the momentum that helped me launch my company in the first place, I regularly ask myself ‘is this the best I could be doing in this moment?’

Related: Why Positivity Matters -- And 3 Ways to Achieve It

By making this mentality a part of my everyday life, I’ve also instilled the same thought process in my team and encourage an environment where everyone is striving to do better. To make sure everyone is on the same track, I do my best to stay approachable and in touch with the entire team, no matter how large we grow. It’s the best way I’ve found to reinforce change, motivation and a sense of mission in the entire company.

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