Motivating your team towards better outcomes

By Dr. Steven Roche, ACER Consulting Ltd.

One of the keys to success in business is to have a skilled, hard-working team that is motivated to get the job done. Getting there is all about communication. Communication plays a major role in employer-employee-advisor relationships on farms and is a key factor contributing towards your farm’s success.

Okay, so where do we start?

Photo credit: ACER Consulting Ltd.

Far too often, we assume that the reason someone hasn’t made a change, or isn’t implementing a practice the way we’d like, is because they don’t recognize it’s an issue, or they don’t know how. We often assume that once we arm them with this knowledge, they will change their behaviour. But think about it, how often does that actually happen? From handwashing to on-farm biosecurity, we know we should be doing these things and generally how to do them, but yet there are many that routinely choose not to.

So, is knowledge the key barrier to motivating change? Probably not, and as a result we are often providing information when it’s not needed. Yes, knowledge of what to do and how to do it is important, but this only gets us so far. Providing information when it’s not needed is just nagging!

It’s not about information, it’s about motivation

The reality is people do and do not do things for all sorts of reasons. You can’t force people to do something, they must find their own motivation to do it. As someone interested in motivating, you need to appreciate that a person’s attitudes, beliefs, values, skills, personality, habits, and perceived ability to perform a given task all influence motivation and behaviour. We often summarize these factors as an individual’s “mindset”. Your job is to better understand the mindset of the individual you want to motivate.

Ask, then listen to understand, not just to respond

Understanding mindset brings us back to communication. As managers, and decision-makers, you need to be open about what you do and why you do it. Your staff need to understand your mindset, and you need to explore theirs. What do they think? What are their opinions and beliefs? What are their experiences? Are you asking these questions of your staff?

Good managers ask open-ended questions and actively listen to the responses. It’s useful to ask questions that start with one of the five W’s and H (who, what, where, when, why, how), which almost always result in someone having to explain themselves, rather than just give a simple “yes” or “no” response. The idea is to get them talking and start to understand their perspective. As you begin to understand, you can get an idea for how to get on the same page.

Motivation and relationships

Open, two-way communication helps to build trusted relationships. Staff value managers who demonstrate these qualities over and above other elements of the job, such as job security and having flexible hours. Research suggests that employee engagement and satisfaction are higher among those who believe their manager is goal-oriented and trustworthy. With better two-way communication between you and your staff (remember, this goes for working with your farm advisors as well!), and a better understanding of mindset, you can work on other managerial qualities that help to motivate on-farm change.


Training allows you to describe your approach to your staff and presents a perfect opportunity for you to get them to understand your mindset. It’s not just about showing them how to perform a given task, it’s about having them understand why it’s done, and done your specific way. Use these opportunities to re-evaluate your methods, and provide opportunities for your staff to raise questions, along with ideas on alternative approaches. Create and communicate clear expectations of the job and what is required to successfully perform it.

Goal setting

Effective managers motivate their staff by creating an environment where the team works toward a predetermined goal(s). Your job is to identify goals and focus your staff to work towards them. Once you’ve chosen a few of your top goals, set out to make them Specific, Measureable, Actionable, Realistic, and Time-bound. “SMART” goals help you articulate what you are striving for and how you will get there. Goals such as “improving production” or “reducing disease” are too broad. What specifically will you achieve and what specific steps will you take to get there? Most importantly, how will you know when you get there?


Feedback from supervisors is routinely identified as one of the most important motivators for staff. In fact, research has shown that recognition, achievement, and constructive feedback for staff are not only some of the most frequent causes of motivation, but they also tend to have the longest impact on job satisfaction. Acknowledging a job well done or an appreciative remark (“thank you”) can go a long way and takes almost no effort at all.

Take home messages

Motivating change is not easy, the playbook is complex. Take time to think about your own approach to motivation. Are you asking the right questions? Are you listening to understand and then respond? Motivation takes time and commitment, and it may require a change in your own mindset. But stick with it, the end results for you and your team are worth it!

This project was funded by the Canadian Agricultural Partnership, a five-year federal-provincial-territorial initiative.