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Unleashing Motivation and Connection in The Workplace


Wouldn’t it be nice if everyone could give their best efforts at work every day? In this aspirational world, managers wouldn’t need to motivate their team members because we’d naturally be inspired. While this musing might be imaginary, it doesn’t need to be as far from reality as you might think. 


JC Bernstein, a management coach and founder of The Management Mentor, has uncovered a tried and true approach to motivating your team no matter the work environment. She outlines the approach in her book Ignite Your Team: Using the SPARK Method to Lead, Inspire, and Build a Team that Cares.


Whether you are leading a team in customer service-oriented industries or managing professionals from diverse backgrounds, the SPARK method offers valuable insights into unlocking motivation and maximizing team performance. JC shared with me an overview of the SPARK method and how managers can use it to create a thriving work environment for humans that also drives performance. 


Purpose and Money Only Do So Much


The SPARK method is built on the recognition that individual motivations drive performance. We’re not all interested in or inspired by the same things. JC explained that when we focus only on connecting with a company’s purpose, inspiration may fall short, especially if the mission isn’t particularly compelling to begin with. The same is true for relying on money. While it may increase productivity in the short term, when the money ends, so does the extra effort.


Instead, the SPARK method encourages leaders to discover what truly resonates with each individual. By forging genuine connections and understanding what matters to team members, managers can tap into the driving force that makes people feel valued. When someone feels part of the team and appreciated for who they are, they tap into a powerful source of motivation. 


This is especially true for hourly employees in customer service-oriented industries, such as restaurants, retail, or warehouses. Unlike folks who have sought years of education in their profession and are inspired by an internal passion, these employees may be working here temporarily while pursuing something else. Instead of trying to convince them to care about the business, JC says managers (and team members) would be better off discovering what actually matters to each person.


Embracing Individuality to Understand Motivational Drivers


Motivation is highly specific to an individual's background, upbringing, and current circumstances, but how do we figure out what each person's unique motives are? To do so, JC unpacked the five steps of the SPARK Method.


S - Slow Down and Gain Perspective


Slowing down amidst a busy schedule allows managers to observe objectively and analyze the dynamics of their team. Understanding the needs and values of team members is vital to establishing meaningful connections, but we can’t do so if we’re running a million miles per minute. JC recommends scheduling 10 minutes on your calendar to walk around the workplace, have casual chats, and simply make space to notice what’s going on. 


P - Pay Attention to Clues


Team members often reveal valuable insights through their choices, conversations, and surroundings. Paying attention to these clues offers managers a deeper understanding of individual values and priorities. Clues could be items on a desk, logos on clothing, or topics of conversation that regularly come up. But, before you jump to conclusions, it’s important to verify your interpretation of these clues. 


A - Ask Calibrated Questions


Asking calibrated questions helps managers determine the accuracy and depth of the connection between identified clues and individual motivations. This step is essential in identifying what truly matters to team members and fostering motivation. JC shared a story about a young man who occasionally drove an antique car kept in stellar condition. At first blush, one might assume he was an antique car fan. But when the manager inquired, it turned out that this car belonged to his late father and was a symbol of the son’s affection for and connection with his dad.


R - Read the Response Signs


Observing body language and emotional reactions during conversations also provides valuable feedback on team members' motivation levels. Positive reactions indicate excitement and engagement, while negative reactions may reveal threats to what matters to them. JC notes that this is true in all conversations, not only those about clues. If a team member responds with an oversized reaction, both positive and negative, it's usually a signal that something important is happening under the surface. 


K - Keep the Connection


The final step of the SPARK method emphasizes the importance of maintaining the connection once established. Managers are encouraged to continuously nurture connections, adapt their approach, and provide ongoing support to sustain motivation and drive performance. This might look like occasionally asking about your team member’s favorite sports team, sharing a favorite recipe after chatting about the challenges of meal prep, or encouraging your colleague to keep the team apprised of their progress pursuing an outside interest.


By prioritizing individual motivations, forging genuine connections, and adapting to the diverse needs and interests of team members, managers can unlock the full potential of their teams. With JC’s SPARK method, managers have a roadmap for success, so you can create a thriving work environment where feeling good and doing good go hand in hand. Embrace the power of the SPARK method and revolutionize your management approach so everyone wins.


Listen to the entire episode HERE to learn more about conflict management.



Keep up with JC Bernstein


- Follow JC on LinkedIn, Instagram, and Facebook


- Subscribe to her YouTube channel The Management Mentor


- Check out her online resources for more information here


- Visit her official website here


Guest Bonus: Exclusive Tutorial on the SPARK Method


If you have struggled to motivate the employees of today (the ones who seem like they just don’t want to work, no matter how hard you try), it’s because you are using outdated techniques in a modern world. To learn the method that works NOW, members get exclusive access to the step-by-step tutorial on the SPARK Method. You’ll get unlimited, lifetime access to JC’s video tutorial.


Get this guest bonus and many other member benefits when you join The Modern Manager Podcast+ Community.



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The Modern Manager is a leadership podcast for rockstar managers who want to create a working environment where people thrive, and great work gets done.


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