AKF Partners

Abbott, Keeven & Fisher PartnersPartners In Hyper Growth

Inspiration vs Motivation

Motivated employees are great but inspired employees are even better. You might not have thought much about the difference between motivation and inspiration but it could be well worth a few minutes to do so. For the formal definitions we turn to the dictionary:
inspire – to exert an animating, enlivening, or exalting influence on
motivate – to provide with a motive (something that causes a person to act)

While not exceptionally helpful these definitions do offer some insight into the differences. Inspiration is described as an influence that is “animated, enlivening, or exalting” while motivation is described as just something that causes one to act. Lots of things can cause someone to act including fear, disgust, hatred, love, hunger, etc. Would you rather have an employee who is acting out of fear or because of an exalting influence? I know which one I would prefer.

Before we tackle the question of how to inspire someone, let’s discuss how people try to motivate employees. As a young manager, I was taught that people are motivated by one of five things: achievement, respect, responsibility, advancement, and growth. However this list isn’t at all complete. As we discussed above, people are motivated by lots of other negative things as well as the positive things in this list. More importantly, motivations are short lived. The excitement over a potential pay increase, a better title, or even fear of losing your job can only last so long before we become immune to them. Think of walking into a room and smelling a strong aroma but in a few minutes our olfactory sense becomes accustom to the smell and we stop being aware of it. The same goes for motivations. Inspirations on the other hand are much longer lasting.

When an employee is inspired, they are working for a cause, they believe in the mission, they have a higher calling. The word inspiration from its origin means “breathed upon.” In Greek mythology there are muses responsible for inspiration but there are no such equivalents for motivation. The way we inspire employees is to make them feel part of something that is bigger than themselves. Treat your employees like team members, tell them why the work they do is important, and share with them your passion. Work on inspiring your employees instead of just motivating them and you’ll have better results that last longer.