Motivating Others

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Law Firm Motivation

People perform their tasks and jobs not in isolation but within the organisational structure of the firm. All people in supervisory roles are in the business of influencing behaviour in directions which will meet the needs of the firm.

To inspire people to work – individually or in groups – in ways that produce the best results for the firm, you need to tap into their own personal motivation forces. You need to understand the factors which affect how people behave at work and how this influences their motivation and commitment. In difficult times how well you understand people could make all the difference to the success or failure of your business.

Managing others would be easy if everyone were the same but of course everyone is different because of their background, their needs and wants and their own attributes.

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Motivating Others Pyramid

The Maslow Hierarchy

According to Maslow, the needs are tackled in the above order starting at the bottom of the pyramid. As you draw near to satisfying one, the priority of the next becomes higher. Also, once a need has been satisfied it is no longer a stimulus or motivating factor.

The Maslow Hierarchy is particularly relevant in the workplace because individuals do not need just money and rewards, but also respect and interaction. When designing jobs, working conditions, and organisational structures, bear in mind the full range of needs in the Maslow Hierarchy. The need for self esteem and the esteem of others is a significant motivating factor.

Remember that making work fun does not mean making it easy but try to motivate through the use of voluntary social and sports activities as this could help to generate rewards all round.


Attributes – are distinguished as:

Ability – The quality which makes an action possible.

Intelligence – The capacity to solve problems, apply principles, make inferences and perceive relationships, the capacity for abstract thinking and reasoning.

Personality – This can be defined as the relatively stable and enduring aspects of individuals which distinguish them from other people. This is the “trait” concept of personality – traits being pre-dispositions to behave in certain ways in a variety of different situations e.g. extroversion/introversion; agreeableness; conscientiousness; neuroticism and openness to experience.

Be careful of attributing certain dispositions to people. It may not be that they will be displayed consistently in all situations.

To decide if a member of staff is competent to do the task you are planning to ask them to perform you need to understand broadly their ability and intelligence attributes.

“Ability is what you’re capable of doing. Motivation determines what you do. Attitude determines how well you do it” – Lou Holtz, American Football Coach

Sources of Influence on People

Family – social contacts outside work – work group.

Work will have the most immediate impact. Socially, people have a strong need to conform to the norms of the group in which they belong. Norms are shared ways of behaving, shared attitudes and beliefs and shared ways of feeling and perceiving, particularly in relation to the main tasks of the group.

Initially, a group member complies in order not to be rejected but over time the individual will internalise this and accept the norm. This can therefore bring difficulties in managing people because:

  • There is incompatibility between a member’s own personal goals and those of the group in which they work
  • There is no sense of pride for them from being a member of that group
  • The member is not fully integrated within the group
  • The price to them of conformity is too high

It is important to measure the morale of your staff on a continuous basis. There are numerous factors which affect people’s behaviour at work. Very often workplace demotivation for many people tends to be caused by poor systems or work overload:


A way of thinking is developed through their experience. So new experiences can change attitudes.


Frustrations occur when individuals are prevented from achieving their goals which means their wants and needs are unlikely to be satisfied. This is often the reason an individual responds to frustrating situations with aggression. Aggressive behaviour can be learned. If individuals find that aggression succeeds, they will use it to gain their ends on later occasions.


The main causes are:

  • the work itself which may be over-pressurised
  • role in the firm – if there is ambiguity in what is expected of the individual or conflict between what he wants to do and what he can do
  • poor relationships with colleagues in the firm – this may come from lack of information, little effective consultation, restrictions on a person’s behaviour or office politics
  • feelings about a job or their career which comes through lack of job security or over or under promotion
  • external pressures such as a clash between home and work. For those who cannot cope with stress it can be highly damaging

Resistance to Change

Main reasons for resistance:

  • shock of the new
  • inconvenience – the change will make life more difficult
  • uncertainty – the change is worrying because the person is uncertain of its likely impact
  • symbolic fears – eg. a move from their own office space to an open plan office
  • a threat to inter personal relationships – anything which disrupts the customary social relationships of the group eg. moving from individual secretaries to team secretaries
  • threat to the status or skill – the change may be perceived as reducing status or de-skilling
  • competence fears – there may be concern about the ability to cope with new demands or require new skills

The Psychological Contract

The psychological contract is the set of reciprocal but unwritten expectations which exist between staff and their employers. These expectations are not defined in the employment contract.

The psychological contract then is a system of beliefs which on the one hand encompasses the actions the employees believe are expected of them and what response they expect in return from the employer and on the other, it is the behaviour the employer expects from the employees. Mutual misunderstandings then cause friction and stress and lead to recriminations and poor performance or even to the termination of the employment relationship.

It is therefore not just for you to understand the role which your staff may play in different situations but also how you are perceived by your staff. When considering how best to treat your staff remember the old adage “do unto others as you would be done by”. If you demonstrate trust in your staff then you may prove yourself worthy to be trusted. If you show respect to your staff then they will show it to you.

As a manager of other people:

  • Never make promises that you are not able or not intending to keep
  • Never ask others to do anything that you would not do yourself
  • Ensure that your people know that they can count on your respect and loyalty, unless and until they prove undeserving

Do remember that:

  • A poor system accounts for 85% of all under performance by people. People will not perform at their best for uncommitted managers
  • Staff should be treated as friends, allies, partners and colleagues
  • It is important to have clear directions from your superiors in order to help you give clear orders
  • The teams objectives are everybody’s business not just yours. Encourage your staff to participate in decision making

The art of motivation

“Treat a person as he is and he will remain as he is. Treat him as he could be, and he will become what he should be”.

– Jimmy Johnson, American Football Coach

The art of motivating people starts with learning how to influence individual’s behaviour. Motivation is the will to act. Use motivation to achieve both collaboration and cooperation from everyone with whom you work. Assess your own motivation levels as well as those of your staff. An essential foundation for motivation is a positive workplace environment created by you the manager or supervisor. Employees have the right to expect fair treatment and understanding. They also expect professional competence, part of which includes delegating tasks in order to increase staff members self management and participation.

Establishing a system that is constructive so that people can perform at their best is vital. Ascertain where your staff’s strengths or interests lie, then you can delegate responsibilities to them which are appropriate to exploit both their strengths and interests and meet the needs of the organisation.

Building up a sharing and collaborative style is much more effective than behaving in an authoritarian command and control way. If you tend to keep away from your staff most of the time and only meet to give orders or reprimands then you may well be demotivating the people who work with you. It is often more motivating for people if you collaborate with them over decisions to be made and give feedback. If somebody falls down on the job do you ask yourself what did you do wrong?

To motivate effectively you need to develop a culture in which no blame is laid for failure. It should be recognised as an opportunity to improve the chances of success in the future.

Two key motivational questions to ask your staff are:

  • what do I do that stops you from doing a better job?
  • what should I do to help you perform better?

If you cooperate with them by acting on the answers you can bring about major improvements in motivation. Conversely, failing to act on the feedback will be very demotivational. You should be trying to build sufficient confidence for staff to help themselves. By having a clear job purpose and clear goals you are helping them to be more autonomous and to achieve the goals that have been set.

By delegating tasks to them you are giving them responsibility and by giving them responsibility you will improve their confidence. Part of your job is to foster their careers so don’t just keep good people for yourself because they might perceive this as you standing in the way of their career path. Empowering them to take the initiative will reinforce their confidence.

Remember too that what you measure and reward is what you get. There are many incentives that can be offered to help motivate people; some will be financial and these would be set by the firm. If you are not in a position to offer financial incentives it is still possible to motivate staff by ensuring that non financial incentives you offer are attractive to the potential recipient.

If your staff are earning good rates of pay, have interesting and responsible jobs and recognition from you as their supervisor for work done well, they should perform well without constant offers of new incentives. Do not allow staff to expect special rewards for simply doing their jobs.


Motivating people comes through:

  • designing jobs to provide autonomy
  • setting goals to achieve
  • acknowledging behaviour which takes responsibility
  • promoting confidence
  • encouraging incentives to ensure the expectations of the firm and the employee are met
  • developing the person through career progression

Further Reading

John W Hunt (1992) 3rd Edition ‘Managing People at Work’, McGraw-Hill

Pedler, Burgoyne & Boydell (1994) 3rd Edition ‘A Manager’s Guide to Self-Development’, McGraw-Hill

Patricia J. Addesso, (1996) ‘Management Would be Easy….. if it weren’t for the People’, AMACOM

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