Motivation from Alice in Wonderland setting

5 Motivation Boosts from Disrupting the Physical Environment

How to spark motivation in a capable yet uncommitted individual?

If only that colleague, friend, or teen child would live up to his potential!

I recently experienced this challenge with my teen son entering his senior year in high school.  He has yet to discover his desired field of study…therefore spends time watching videos.  Hullo?!

Your situation may differ yet leaves you just as confused.  Why does a colleague resists change or balks on implementation?  We don’t need to know the “why’s” of their behavior.  We do need to decide what you and I can and will do about it.  Action is our zone of influence.

Try these steps to get the motivation ball to start rolling.

1. Disrupt the Physical Context

Try temporarily transplanting them into a new physical setting.  It’s like showing them a trailer of future potential.

  • Take a trip or an off-site meeting
  • Propose they shadow a client or a colleague in a different department for a day
  • Engage in role-plays and exchange roles.
    Have the team member put himself in the shoes of someone who has a strong opinion, an opposing stance, who has already succeeded…
  • Attend a personal development workshop

2. Generate New Questions

A new context breaks from our routine, opens the way for exploration, and invites space for discussion.  Questions we could not have previously envisioned become apparent.  We can both ask them and be open to hearing their response.

The new environment shifts the limelight from fixing a motivational problem to understanding a new situation.

These questions seek learning.

3. Welcome Surprises

Surprises, by definition, unhitch.   In management, surprise often represents bad news:  the sign of lack of anticipation, of mistaken KPI’s, of lack of control.

“A woman is like a tea bag.  You won’t know how strong she is until you put her in hot water.”
– Eleanor Roosevelt

Discovery also loosen up attitudes and knots in relationships.  In unknown circumstances our real strengths reveal themselves.

4. Evaluate the Learning

“Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.”
– Benjamin Franklin

Synthesizing the new experience into a few key points involves the person and maximizes the learning.

Our brain literally changes shape according to our thoughts.  By re-hashing concepts, we strengthen the brain’s ability to remember them.

5. Commit to Action

Motivation is revealed through actions.

“I have been impressed with the urgency of doing. Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Being willing is not enough; we must do.”
– Leonardo da Vinci

Motivation Business Case –

Motivating a Young Employee

A young coaching client admitted that effort is not his strong suit.

Disrupt the Context

Together we set up informational interviews with experts in his field.  “What’s the point of THAT?” he wondered until he experienced their enthusiasm and the purpose which motivates their work.

Generate New Questions

His professional reputation took on a new importance  He sought out colleagues to identify interesting questions which would help him look intelligent with the experts.

Welcome Surprises & Synthesize Learning

This young employee reported back his discoveries:

  • “I spoke with fellow engineers but most of our discussions centered on management issues!”
  • “These people have worked for the same company for more than a decade. They like it (the surprise) because they were able to hold a variety of positions and keep growing.”

These are valuable insights to gain early on in one’s career.

Commit to Action

“I should write a thank you note?!” he exclaimed.  (Another invaluable learning.  Yes!  Preferably the same day.  By the end of the week at the latest.)

Each of the experts this young employee met could be a potential mentor.  How could he become a valuable mentee?  In his thank you notes he committed to touching base within six months with new questions about managing engineers.

Motivation Life Application –

Motivating a Teen to Study

My teen son applies to colleges next year.  His grades are “good enough” for him and “not sufficient to offer great choices” according to me.

“Mom, I don’t know what to study.  There are no choices to make now.”  That is where our opinions differ.

Disrupt the Context

To explore his future productively and positively, we toured college campuses.  He walked the knowledge-filled halls, heard the enthusiastic students, and visited livable dorm rooms.  His no longer felt nor thought like he did when lounging in his room.

Generate New Questions

Prior to our campus visits, my son had asked, “What should I study?” seeking The Correct Answer.

With the fresh perspective of a changed context, he made new inquiries:

  • What do engineers do? What is marketing?  What makes a good lawyer?
  • How does one evaluate options?
  • What will happen if _____ (I change my mind, I fail a class…)?

Welcome Surprises

Our visits took us to Montreal during the Jazz Festival, where we discovered a range of music in a dynamic, fun-filled ambiance.

At one point, we lost each other in the crowd.  To find me, he climbed to a spot with a lookout on the horde.

Apply that to your life, darling. Let’s review the list of majors as if they were people in a mob.   We will eliminate most of them and only take a second look at topics that generate a hint of interest.”

Also, in the process of discovery, we grew more open to each other’s different perspectives.   I could listen to his fumbling with more patience.  He willingly received my probing questions.

Synthesize Learnings

“Mom, that was a really interesting trip. It helped thinking about college. Thanks.”

“How did it help?”

“Uhh…”  Pause.  Thinking.  Synthesizing.  Summarizing.

  1. “I still don’t know what I want to study but since I realize I can change my mind later, it is easier to choose something.”
  2. “To be able to change, I need good grades.”
  3. “These schools are far away, but I could live there. I am capable.”

We’ve come a long way…

Commit to Action

…and to move further forward he committed to asking fellow camp counselors this summer how they decided what to study in university.


“The secret of getting ahead is starting. The secret of getting started is breaking your tasks into smaller manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one.”
– Mark Twain

Get started with one. small. step.


What commitment will you make?  Let us know in the comments.

Cover photo from Disney movie Alice in Wonderland (2010)

Birthday Wishes for adult

4 Birthday Gifts Colleagues Crave…yet Never Make the List

If your birthday gets celebrated at work it probably looks, tastes, or smells like

  • a box of chocolates,
  • an invitation for drinks,
  • a bouquet of flowers, or
  • a bottle of whisky.

It’s nice…yet is that what they really desire?

Studies abound highlighting the link between quality performance and recognition of a job well done and a sense of belonging to a team.  Why not offer a gift that truly matters for your colleague?

Offer the Gift of Listening

We all have feedback to give and many of us wonder how and when to express it.  When it comes to sharing an insight with hierarchy, the time never seems right.

Make it easy for your team member and offer them openness to their viewpoint.  Seriously, present it as a gift.

One CEO invites the employees with birthdays in that month to join her for lunch.  It’s their time to ask her questions about the company.

Another manager schedules a one-on-one meeting with two agenda items:

  • one behavior the team member appreciates in the manager and that he hopes the manager will continue doing
  • one behavior the team member finds challenging. They discuss a specific time this behavior occurred, and the employee expresses what he would have preferred as an outcome.

Be the Gift – Offer to Help THEIR WAY

I am regularly asked to help unblock relationship challenges and one of the common culprits is assumptions.

To assume makes an A.S.S. out of U and ME
– my brother

To assume makes an A.S.S. out of U and ME.  Like when we assume our team member wants our advice…when, really, those wise words sound like a command (yet another one).

Or when you do your colleague a favor and your efforts are not appreciated to their “just value.”  Maybe he really wanted the manager to stop interrupting him with busywork so that he could complete the task himself.

If you want to be a gift, let your colleague choose how.  “I notice the deadline is approaching and there still is much to do.  How can I help? It’s your birthday.  Ask whatever.”

(re)Celebrate a Success on the
Million $ Birthday Chair

“Effective managers build on strengths.”
– Peter Drucker

Relive a Success

Are you too looking for ways to get big bang out of less time, energy, and funds? The Birthday Chair does it every year.  For less than $1, the birthday person feels like $1 Million!

Give them an opportunity to relive a moment when they succeeded and were proud of themselves.  Designate a chair as the Birthday Chair and decorate it if you lifke.  Then, together, discuss one of their achievement, focusing on

  • the feelings generated by the success
  • the conditions that contributed to the achievements

This is a powerful tool to encourage employees and allow them to connect with the purpose of their work.

It can seem out of place to revisit an “old” event.  That’s where the Birthday Chair can create the occasion.  It’s a moment that is out of the ordinary.

Explore Success with all the Senses

I like to focus on each of the senses when reliving a success.  It’s like adding muscle and tissue to a skeleton.  The achievement comes to life in multiple dimensions and feeds the desire to achieve further.

Here is an example of helping a team member revisit their great presentation

  • What did it look like?
    Team member (TM): “It was motivating to have everyone’s attention and not to have people perched on their phones!”
  • What did it sound like?
    TM: “During the Q & A, people asked relevant questions that moved the discussion forward. They were clearly interested.”
  • What did it feel like?
    “I know now that I can overcome the butterflies in my stomach when speaking in public.”
  • What did it smell like?
    TM: “Sweat! From now on, I’m keeping a travel size bottle of my fragrance with me to freshen up before making a presentation.”
  • What did it taste like?
    TM: “Champagne!”

Uncover the Conditions for Success

You can even dig further to understand the conditions that helped create the success and to explore how these conditions could be replicated.

Recognize their Unique Gift to the Team

Birthday card for work colleaguesWhen do you discuss your team members’ qualities with them?  Usually during the performance review, which is also when people are stressed and wary of critique.

When do you focus on the capabilities you seek to transmit?  Try intentionally creating occasions to recognize qualities.  Birthdays present an excuse to experiment with a positive approach.

Here is a birthday card offered by the team to one of their colleagues.  Each person wrote something they appreciate about the birthday person’s contribution to the group.

Download your card here.

Apply to Life

Million $ Birthday Chair at Home

Boy blowing out birthday candles

We love this big bang for little buck method to make a child feel special and belonged.

We decorate one chair BIG TIME:  at least 6 balloons and as many streamers.  The chair goes in the middle of the room where the kids (or all ages) gather for the presents.  It’s also the throne on which he reigns during the Birthday Story Time.

The Birthday Story Time

Share a story to encourage your child to grow in confidence, character, and responsibility.

  • What happened the day they were born?
  • What quality have you observed them develop this past year?
  • What is a sign of growing confidence?
  • How have they helped you become a better person or parent?
  • What do they do that makes you feel loved by them?

About YOU

When did you feel appreciated at work for your birthday?  Share it with us in the comments.

Boys in teamwork. What collaboration!

Turn Good Intentions into Great Teamwork

Who among you works with youth or young employees?  How do you help the next generation to transform good intentions into teamwork, collaboration, and positive results?

That’s what I had the opportunity to put to the test this past week when teaching a class in Introduction to Management to university students, youth with several months of corporate work experience.  The university called me in to pick up a class in the middle of their curriculum; I began with the topics of Motivation and Leadership.  How appropriate!

Personable and polite students entered the class with good intentions.  In theory, they were motivated.  In practice, they quickly lost focus by chatting with a colleague or scrolling on their mobile phone.  Bye bye, teamwork.

Professor colleagues lament the young generation’s lack of attention and most respond in either of two schools

  • to carry on whether the students are listening or not
  • to walk over to the students’ desk and close their computers for them

Motivation 3.0

My area of expertise is Motivation-in-the-Era-of-Internet which expounds that employees are most motivated when they find autonomy, mastery, and purpose in their work.  Ignoring students or treating them like a child lies contrary to this Motivation 3.0 approach.

“Management is about creating conditions for people to do their best work…And what science is revealing is that carrots and sticks can promote bad behavior and encourage short-term thinking at the expense of the long view.” – Dan Pink, from Drive

Additionally, my experience with Millennials confirms their search for authenticity and connection in relationships.  Neither of the above teaching/leadership styles convey either genuine interest in or an engagement with the students.

Here was my dilemma:  How to teach/lead and engage these students in a way that

  • ensures results (the material is covered qualitatively=
  • creates a sense of belonging and desire to contribute among the students?

In other words, how to help these Post Millennials transform their good intentions into positive teamwork?

Team-Generated Collaboration Guidelines

We used a tool that works wonders in my workshops: Co-Developed Group Guidelines

This tool helps both create and maintain a constructive work environment.


1. The first step entails putting the good intentions into writing.  Here is how.

Invite your group to share, “What can we each do to work together as a great team?”

Folk respond right away with, “To respect each other.”  And the list continues.

2. It’s helpful to break down vague or over-used words. 

  • “What does respect mean exactly?”
  • “What will it sound/look/feel like?”
  • “What is an example of lack of respect that we should avoid?”

3. Once the brainstorming complete, invite the group to prioritize three to five of these great team behaviors.

The process of making the list together brings the success-criteria to top of mind.  It’s like hearing the reminder to drink 1 liter of water a day.  We know these are helpful behaviors AND we benefit from remembering to do so.

The process of having built these teamwork criteria together builds belonging to the group and accountability.  “It’s the rules I made.  It’s normal that I should keep them.”

Here is our class’ list.Teamwork collaboration guidelines


As humans, any rule is hard to follow, even the great ones we make ourselves!  We need help yet even well-intentioned positive reminders can sound like nagging.  Invite self-evaluation as an effective means of follow through.

Half-way through my class I invited our group to review our team ground rules.  “How are we doing? Thumbs up (good teamwork), side ways (OK job), or down (need improvement).”

In our class, thumbs were all over the place!  That’s an opportunity to address the elephant in the room.

“Well…it looks like some people think we are listening while other people talk, and others don’t.”

That’s where I appealed to everyone to think of one or two behaviors to change so that our listening improved.  Some students closed their computers on their own accord.  We reshuffled the break-out groups which had the effect of separating chattering partners.  People sat up straighter in their chairs…

And we smiled (!) and continued with class.

And for our next session on Communication and Teamwork, we’ll begin by reviewing those same co-developed ground rules and setting a personal goal to be 1 Great. Team.

How do you engage your young employees?  Please share in the comments.

Apply Teamwork Guidelines to Your Work

What is your challenge with teamwork?

  • People arrive late in meetings
  • Folk repeat what has already been said or done
  • Meetings have no agenda
  • Lack of trust

Try setting a new stage.  Instead of focusing on the challenges, brainstorm together about great teamwork and, TOGETHER, set yourselves some clear guidelines.

Apply Teamwork Guidelines to Your Life

Easter is this Sunday.  In France, it’s customary to celebrate over a looooooong meal with extended family.  You love the food, wine, and company.  The kids get bored à table for an eternity.

Try this activity “en famille.

“Sweethearts, what can we do to make the big family meal a great experience for everyone?”

Everyone can brainstorm:

  • “We could get up and play between courses”
  • “We could get up and help (!) between courses!!”
  • “We could have Easter Egg drawings and color them while the adults finish eating”
  • “We could make an Easter Egg hunt for the adults!!!”

Once the brainstorming juices have flown free, then select one or two options that’s acceptable to everyone. 🙂

Photo by Robert Collins on Unsplash