6 ways to make people do stuff

Frankie Kemp

2 September 2020

Motivation is as slippery as an eel.  One day you’re fizzing with energy to do your expenses, next day, it would take 5 gladiators to drag you to that spreadsheet.

Who knows what people are motivated by on any given day?

So it’s even harder when you need to make others do something.  And now you may be working remotely, how are you going to whip others into action when you can’t helicopter over them?

The motivation to action could be intrinsic such as the pure joy in doing something.  Holding the desirable outcome of a boring task in your mind can also be effective. So you hate Excel but, boy, the feeling of all those expenses deposited in your account is the holy grail of data organisation.

Sometimes the motivator is extrinsic, referring to external factors such as praise, pressure or financial incentives.

In this post, I’m focusing on extrinsic motivators that get other people to do stuff based on my workshop on The Fundamental Skills of Influence.  The group came up with a raft of suggestions for a football coach, who’s trying to motivate young people to eat healthily:



(A leader board with a pints system, as written on the board, sounds very alluring. I think they meant points system, though.)

The Techniques

These are six main techniques that come up with on the Mentimeter board:

  1. Incentivising – xbox 
    Think discounts, free product, giving your time, helping with a task.
  2. Using challenge – leaderboard
    Create a competition.
  3. Allowing them to be ‘imperfect’  – 2 healthy and 1 treat (I presume not a fried Mars Bar, in this case) 
    Don’t expect 100%.  Get an incremental improvement and praise all progress as you see it. This encourages them to do more.
  4. Keep their eyes on the goal – stories of role models; habits tracker
    Make sure role model stories are relateable.  Ask people to research their own.  Columbia University and Washington University found that low performing science students increased their grades after reading about the struggles of famous scientists.  Stories can change people’s behaviour.
  5. Accountability partner
    The person doesn’t have to be like them but mutual trust and respect is necessary.
  6. Evidence based – what you see is what you believe as in the split test and the habits tracker
    If the students could see the direct relationship between sports performance and their diet, it may be likely to embed new habits.

Your Action

  1. Think of a task you need to motivate others, this can be domestic, social or professional.
  2. Use one of the six tools above.
  3. Note the reaction.  It may not be instant.  People may need time to marinate an idea before acting on it.
  4. Use another tool if that didn’t go all the way.

Looking to increase your influence?  Want to make your ideas gather traction?  Look at how we can together on communication skills and influence.

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