Sparking Motivation for All Leaders: Helping everyone move from strategy to action

With a strategic plan in place, it is essential to move to specific action steps to make the plan come to fruition and meet the organizational goals. When the plan moves from the glossy, high-level aspirational strategy document to the day-to-day, nuts and bolts of making it happen, it is essential to build buy in and ownership. Too often strategic plans and ideas live at the top leadership levels but aren’t conveyed and owned at all levels of the organization.  If the strategic plan represents the whole organization, then all members of the organization must see their role, their work, and their impact reflected in the larger plan and connected to their day to day lives.

Gold medal athlete, author, and leadership speaker, Abby Wambach, defines leadership this way: “Leadership is taking care of yourself and empowering others to do the same. Leadership is not a position to earn, it’s an inherent power to claim. Leadership is the blood that runs through your veins—it’s born in you. It’s not the privilege of a few, it is the right and responsibility of all. Leader is not a title that the world gives to you—it’s an offering that you give to the world.” With this definition, the concept of leadership can be shared, regardless of title or position, and all employees can engage as leaders supporting the larger organization goals. But how does one build this engagement and motivation for all levels of leaders?

In 2009, Daniel Pink wrote Drive, which examined the underlying roots of motivation for individuals. He highlighted employees in business, in particular, and cited numerous research examples that point to three underlying factors that promote intrinsic motivation—mastery, autonomy, and purpose. As a non-profit leader, identifying how to establish these three factors as part of your organization, can lead to greater motivation, greater engagement, and ultimately, greater impact.

Let’s take a look at what these factors are and what they might look like in the non-profit sector tied to strategic planning:

  • Mastery
    • What it is. Mastery is defined as the intrinsic desire to improve. If people feel as though they have the tools and skills they need and want to grow in an area, they are more likely to continue to work towards greater improvement. It is important to note that this challenge to improve must feel productive, not frustrating. This means that the individual has enough experience, resources, and readiness to rise to the challenge.
    • What it looks like. Mastery means planning with employees to identify measurable outcomes so individuals know what they are trying to achieve. It means having deadlines to check in on progress against the larger outcome. Mastery also means that employees identify their own readiness to take on the initiative and address any gaps or needs to make them more successful.
  • Autonomy
    • What it is. Autonomy is the need to direct your life and your work. Autonomy looks like people identifying their own strategies to meet demands of work and finding creative solutions based on an individual’s strengths and needs. It doesn’t necessarily mean that the individual is completely on her own, but that she does have the ability to own and control her piece of the work.
    • What it looks like. Autonomy aligned to a strategic plan means that an individual understands what variables she has control over to shape the action plan of the initiative. The employee considers what team members, timeframes, resources, and order of action steps will yield the greatest results. The balance of autonomy in strategic planning work is to make sure that the choices of the individual still fit into the larger goals, resource allocation and timeframes of the plan.
  • Purpose
    • What it is. Purpose is the investment in the bigger picture. If people have a sense that the work they are doing matters to others, the organization, the larger mission, or the world, they are more likely to be motivated.
    • What it looks like. This factor is often the default used for motivation in non-profits. Many people work in non-profits because they believe in the deeper purpose of the organization. However, when it comes to strategic planning, the smaller initiatives or action steps are not always clearly connected to the larger organizational goals or purpose. By helping employees see that their piece of the puzzle and that their successes support the rest of the organizational successes, a leader can prompt even greater motivation.

If a leader in a non-profit seeks to move from top-down implementation of the strategic plan and instead create meaningful, motivational action plans to promote engagement and leadership at every level of the organization, then creating ownership is essential. By helping all employees see themselves as leaders and how their individual work drives towards the larger strategic goals, the strategic plan becomes a reality with greater impact on the world.