In-Ear Insights: Motivation, Momentum, and Management

In this week’s In-Ear Insights, Katie and Chris discuss how to manage motivation of a team, especially in demotivating circumstances. How do you keep people interested over a long period of time in a sustainable way? What if you don’t have the budget or resources for tangible retention methods? Tune in to learn motivation tips!


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In-Ear Insights: Motivation, Momentum, and Management

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Machine-Generated Transcript

What follows is an AI-generated transcript. The transcript may contain errors and is not a substitute for listening to the episode.

Christopher Penn 0:00

In this week’s In-Ear Insights, let’s talk about momentum and motivation.

So Katie, you know, in the past couple of weeks, one of the things I’ve been doing in the evenings is volunteering with this group doing some advocacy.

And one of the things I’ve observed is that, in the beginning, for any kind of cause, or something like that, there’s a lot of motivation, there’s a lot of energy.

And then over time, I mean, people can’t run it 120% For more than a few days, much less weeks, or months, or in the timeframe that change is required to occur, like, you know, for example, electing new people to office or changing a company’s core values, things, those things are measured on, like geologic timeframes, almost like years and years to pivot a company to pivot a culture to make lasting change.

So my question to you is, because I’m watching this in this group of people, and I think this applies very broadly to marketers and companies, right now with layoffs and all these things, how do you help someone manage a team, so that you maintain motivation, and you maintain you retain motivation in a sustainable way, what kind of systems and processes you need to have in place, so that people can still feel engaged, people still feel like there’s a reason to do the thing, battle, but they’re not burning out, and they’re not losing momentum?

Katie Robbert 1:23

Well, you know, I think you hit upon something really important, people can’t run at 120% all the time.

Like, it’s, you know, you can do it in short bursts.

And I think that that’s really, part of the you know, quote, unquote, secret is, you know, that’s not the goal.

It’s what do they say, it’s a marathon, not a sprint.

And so, you know, if this is like a campaign, you know, like you’re talking about, it’s gonna be, you know, good, it’s gonna take like, a few weeks, a few months, you really need to sort of temper those expectations.

And, you know, make sure people aren’t burning out quickly.

And then just dropping out a fight is the same thing with the team, especially with all the of these tech companies with all the layoffs, the people who are left are now burdened with six more people’s jobs and no extra money and no end in sight.

And maybe they don’t have, you know, the ability to leave this role, because it could be devastating to their personal life, financially, whatever.

So in my experience, there’s a lot of wrong ways to do it.

So let’s just get some of those out of the way, first, pizza parties not going to be helpful, because the first thing, all of your disgruntled employees, you’re going to think as well, that’s money they could have spent and put back into my paycheck.

But thanks for all the pizza and by the way, have begun.

So there’s none of those options there.

You know, it’s executives tend to feel like it’s No, let me show you, you’re still part of the team.

But when you’re actually the employee who’s dealing with it, it feels like a slap in the face, it feels like all I’m worth is a pizza party.

You know, my job’s not that important.

And, you know, you couldn’t even spring for the good stuff.

So don’t do that.

You know, the forced family fun, all of the activities, the outings.

That’s not what’s needed at this time when I used to work at a company that we went through the 2008 recession.

And so they formed, you know, much like the TV show The Office, they had the party planning committee.

And as one of the few remaining employees there, I was on the party planning committee.

We had national high five day where we Yeah, it’s a thing where we actually wasted our time and went through and wrote out instructions on the different kinds of high fives that you could give people and then encouraged people and gave out stickers for the best high fives like it was a it was a stretch, trying to get people excited and motivated.

Chris, I could see the look on your face, but like, it was desperate times and those of us who were tasked with creating this activity, we knew it was stupid.

We knew that.

But we were trying to boost morale.

We were trying to generate some excitement, some fun, because we couldn’t give them money.

We couldn’t promise them their jobs.

So let’s make ourselves look foolish for an afternoon to give people something to like smile about.

Was it a great use of time? No, absolutely not.

So to your actual question, Chris, of how do you motivate people? It starts with helping them understand what’s in it for them.

So was watching something yesterday and this is not an original quote, but it’s like no, no act is truly selfless.

And the conversation that was being had was People go out of their way to do selfless things.

But it’s okay for them to feel good about themselves when they do it.

That’s what makes it not truly selfless.

And so by pulling the team together, getting them to stay motivated, it’s okay to remind them what’s in it for them as individuals like what they are getting out of this situation.

Because we really try to focus on like, here’s the good, here’s the good of our customers, here’s, you know, the good of the team.

And then individuals who sit there, but what about me? What’s, what’s in it for me? And so that’s the first place you need to start.

So Chris, in your example, we’ve been working with this community, you know, I would imagine that the what’s in it for me is they would get their content back that they’ve been fighting so hard to get other other benefits to NA to individuals?

Christopher Penn 5:50

That’s a very good question.

It’s not one that I have a great answer for.

That’s when you know, when the reasons why I brought up as a topic, because it’s a volunteer organization, there’s no money.

So you that like you literally can’t pay people, anything much less pay, the more, which is usually one of the easy levers that you know, a company can can pull if they’re trying to retain a team.

And so that kind of brings me to something that Rory Sutherland is an admin from, I think element he did a number of lectures years ago, one of the things he said that is that, in order for things to be sustainable in the future, we need to move from tangible value to intangible value, he calls it badge value, where you heard of things like social status, relationships, things, how people perceive you, as being intangible value that you can provide to people in lieu of not having the resources to give someone tangible value.

So for the people who are in this community, and even thinking back to the team, we used to run at the old agency, there was a lot of dynamic personalities on the team, there was definitely some egos that needed to be assuage mine was one of them.

And they’re the things that we did that did not involve pay, or pizza parties often was helping people increase their sense of status, increase their sense of self worth, and value, providing training all the time.

So that I remember, one person on our team said, working here is like, no going to graduate school, except that you get a paycheck.

Katie Robbert 7:29

And those are the things that, you know, companies need to not lose sight of, because you know, it’s work, work, work, work, work, work, work, work, work, work, you know, we can’t make time for professional development, we can’t worry about training, we just have to do the work.

And that’s where you start to lose that motivation by the individuals.

And so, I would imagine, Chris, in that community, that you’re, that it’s all volunteers, the benefits, aside from, you know, the content that they’re fighting so hard for, would be things like networking would be things like experience would be things like, you know, a demonstration of skill sets, you mentioned to me, that, you know, you’ve identified a designer within the group who’s been able to, you know, probably create more things for their personal portfolio by volunteering for this group.

And it’s lower stakes in the sense that nobody’s paying for it.

So the feedback is gonna be, you know, less harsh, like, I didn’t pay you to do this thing.

And so I would imagine that for a lot of the individuals in that group, those kinds of experiences are also what they’re there for.

It’s the, you know, what does it feel like to be part of an organized group? What does it feel like to organize a group? What does it look like to actually put together, you know, these plans and you know, everything that’s going into it to actually propose, here’s what should happen, that invaluable experience that they may not be able to get anywhere else.

And so that I feel like, as people start to lose their motivation, those are the things that they should be reminded of, in addition to the original mission of, here’s why we all organized in the first place.

When you’re dealing with a tee that’s starting to lose motivation.

You know, to your point, here are the trainings, here’s the here’s the knowledge that you can’t get elsewhere that you can’t get from a book that you can’t get from a course.

Here’s, let me make time to sit with you to share my experience to help you boost your resume boost your networking, let me introduce you to people that I think you could learn something from or you know, that you want to connect with.

So there’s a lot of ways to give back to your team to help keep them motivated that aren’t financial that aren’t monetary.

Christopher Penn 9:53


One of the things I noticed very early on was initially the the discord group, very much like our Slack grupa analytics, remarketing had just a very tight focus.

Like, here’s the thing, we’re gonna use all the different channels for different aspects of this project.

And there were no what we call work life balance channels, right? There’s no cooking channel, there’s no TV channel, there’s no, this led to the other thing.

And then about a week in, it’s seemed like people realize, oh, we are also a social unit and additional.

And it’s just been through this mission task unit.

And so we’ve had this spawning of all these different social channels and stuff.

And I think that’s kind of the glue, to your point that is helping to hold the core team together.

The benefits from that, you know, for example, there’s one channel in there called resume on LinkedIn, and people asking like, how do I, you know, a what, how do I communicate this experience and be can so it looks at my LinkedIn profile, tell me what I’m doing wrong.

And I’ve been pitching in a fair amount of feedback on that channel, like get us how to do this with your LinkedIn and stuff like that.

Here’s how the LinkedIn algorithm works.

So that people are getting getting benefit from that.

For me, personally, I’ve got like three new chapters in the book, I’m writing just from experiences on this campaign.

So it’s, it’s being able to see like, okay, in addition to new professional contacts, and stuff there is, is look of oh, here’s, here’s a strategy for how to use these private communities to influence public social media like that goes, this is cool.

This goes through the book.

Katie Robbert 11:33

So it’s interesting, because what you’re getting out of the experience is different from what someone else is getting out of the experience.

But, you know, had someone when you joined, the group sat you down and said, What do you want to get out of this, you probably didn’t like, I don’t know, seems kind of cool.

But now as you’ve been in it, you’re getting you’re understanding what it is that you’re gaining from being a part of this, you know, community you’re getting, you know, real insight, that would then you know, be that knowledge transfer to other people, you can share that experience, you’re getting the opportunity to do some mentoring, but also make, you know, new connections outside of your usual network.

And so it sounds like those are very, those are things that I know are important to you.

And so as your if you sort of translate this back into a teen, who, you know, you need to keep motivated, rather than asking the question, you know, what do you want to get out of this experience? A better question to ask is, what’s important to you? What’s important to you, in your personal life, what’s important to you in your professional life, and listen for the responses they give, because it may not be a direct clear line from, okay, you said that hanging out with your dog is important, I could do this exact thing for you.

Like, there’s gonna have to be some, you know, creative thinking there.

But, you know, for me, one of the most important things to me is a really strong work life balance.

And so if I was in that situation, and of you know, the team needs to motivate and someone said to me, what’s important, I would say, you know, not working 80 hours a week is really important to me.

That would then be the role of the manager to figure out, okay, this is a resource we need to retain, this is a resource to really keep motivated.

This is a resource we need to ask more of.

So where does that balance come into play? That’s what would keep someone like me motivated is knowing that my the things that are important to me are valued by the company.

Being forced into a networking event.

Not important to me, it’s actually one of my worst nightmares, because I’m so I’m such an introvert, that gives me a lot of anxiety.

So if that’s the benefit they’re giving to me, then I feel either the less motivated because I no longer feel heard as an individual as well.

And that’s honestly that’s the key is making sure people feel heard.

Making sure you know, what’s important to them, and making sure they know what’s in it for them as individuals.

Christopher Penn 14:05

Yeah, I mean, if you think about it, you may not be able to pay people more, but you can have people work less right and effectively it’s available where you can say like you can work the hours you want to work if you want if you need to be home with your dog between 10 and two great common for the morning, head on out, come back in the afternoon, if you’re if you’re obviously Phillips close by things like that.

That level of flexibility is certainly helps.

Listening to people, I think, is one of those, those really challenging things because as a manager, particularly if you’re a manager in a in a very high pressure, high tension situation, you’re so overwhelmed yourself.

can’t listen to somebody else.

I remember, again, back in our agency days, I was on the road like 30 weeks of the year.

I could not listen to the team.

I literally could I was simply not there.

Because I was out doing sales pitches all the time.

And so it’s interesting Now, in this organization, I’m probably it’s very strange.

I’m the one of the oldest people there.

I’m also the only person who my gender there, which is interesting.

And now, with the benefit of not being under, like, intense pressure all the time I can, I could listen to people and watch him serving like, oh, that’s what Katie was trying to tell me seven years ago.

manage people.

Katie Robbert 15:27

Oh, I did.

Christopher Penn 15:29

Exactly what your thinks it’s important to me is like, doing cold stars, I think is something that, to me, is self validation.

As part of this, one of the first things I said to huge surprise is, hey, we have an email list and people like, what’s that? Like? Oh, so I stood up a free substack account.

And now it’s, you know, that it’s got hundreds of subscribers and things like that.

So it’s this cold start? Okay.

Well, the questions you always ask, What’s when you’ve been established for a while is are we doing? Are we getting the results because of the brand that we have? Or because of the skill we have as marketers, we do a cold start, you set up a new Twitter account, that’s not your name, a new email list and stuff.

It tests your knowledge, can I do it have the skill to make this grow with no brand, no way to assist it and stuff you just got to do it with, with skill alone.

And so for me, that’s again, one of those, those intangible benefits of of doing something like this, I could definitely see in an agency situation, even if a company situation giving somebody a new project, like okay, here’s a side project, it’s it’s not revenue generating, we know it’s not revenue generating, it’s, it’s solely for your benefit.

And you can spend a week, an hour or two a week, just messing around with it, just to see if if it’s, if that’s something that person wants, is something that they enjoy, letting them test their skills.

Katie Robbert 16:55

When I think back to our time, when you were on the road, you know, 30 weeks of the year, it was hard, because I needed you to listen, and you were in crisis mode all the time of, okay, I just need to fix things.

And that wasn’t what I needed from you.

And so as a manager, or as anyone in an organization, who is tasked with keeping people motivated, that is something that you have to continually remind yourself of is, I’m not necessarily being asked to solve problems, I am just being asked to listen.

And it’s the same thing like, you know, in a relationship, like, ask this ask the person up front, before you get into the conversation.

Do you want me to offer suggestions to fix the thing? Or do you just need me to listen? And you know, again, they may not know.

And if they don’t know, err on the side of just listening, and not you know what you should do about that? Here’s five ways to solve that problem.

Well, you know, if you just tried this fix up that is unhelpful.

It is 100%.

On helpful.

Well, you know, if you just work less, you wouldn’t be so burnt out.

Jesus, why didn’t I think of that? Oh, my God, like, that is not helpful in that moment.

And so the biggest takeaways for anyone, if they are tasked with motivating, is to actively listen, don’t just wait for your turn to talk.

But actively listen, don’t feel the need to fill in, you know, the Dead Space is if the person stops talking for a minute.

That’s okay, let the let the air be silent.

Let them just sort of like process and finish their thoughts.

Because as overwhelmed as you are, you’ve been asked to be put in this position so that you can then facilitate other people processing whatever they’re feeling, especially in these companies that have now undergone massive layoffs.

Motivation, it is an all time low.

Why do it? Why should I bother doing this? I’m probably next on the chopping block.

And maybe that’s true.

But while you are still there, your job is to help people continually feel like they have a reason to show up every day.

Christopher Penn 19:08

What do you do when people have lost that motivation?

Katie Robbert 19:13

It’s hard, it happens.

And for some people, you can’t help them get it back.

Because ultimately, you are not responsible for them feeling motivated.

And I know that sort of feels counterintuitive to what we’re talking about.

They are the only ones who can be motivated.

You can guide them.

You can give them reasons, but ultimately, they are the only ones who can find that inner motivation.

So your job so let’s say I was talking with you and you’re like, you know what, Katie? I just can’t do this Trust Insights thing anymore.

It’s just I don’t see the point.

No, in all seriousness, I don’t see the point.

You know, it we’re headed into recession.

We’re losing clients.

My job is to give you insight is to listen and give you reasons to feel motivated.

But ultimately, you’re the only one who can decide whether or not it’s going to be the right situation for you.

So I could say things to you like, well, I have some really interesting ideas of other ways that we can bring in revenue, which is true, we’ll talk about that later.

You know, I think that the work that you’ve been doing with this other community could really lend itself to opening doors into other industries, you know, is that work that you’ve enjoyed? Or is that just work you feel like you’ve had to do.

And so really just having an open conversation, focused solely on you about things that make you happy in terms of the work and help and me helping you understand and see that there are things that you enjoy about it, that it’s not just all drudgery.

And so then we focus on the drudgery and say, Okay, what’s not working? Well, what are the things we have to do? Well, let’s work on those things together to knock those out.

So you can have more time to focus on the things you enjoy.

Who does

Christopher Penn 21:07

that for the leaders of an organization, because obviously, in a chain of command in a hierarchical organization, the person above you’re supposed to help do that for you, who does that for the leaders, because they’re often ones, particularly in any kind of movement or cause where they don’t have there is no one above the idea, you’re at the you’re at the front of the pack,

Katie Robbert 21:27

okay, slowly at the top, and I’m being only partially sarcastic.

The higher up you go, the less support you have.

And it’s hard, it’s very hard.

And so that’s where you, then as you know, the CEO, the leader, the manager, the director, then have to look around at your network, and maybe that’s external to the organization that you’re at.

So for me, personally, you know, I have my friends, I have my husband, you know, I’m fortunate that I have you and job because we’re all essentially equals, in the organization, we have roles to play.

But, you know, we rely on each other.

But I’ve had to make it a point, to find my own personal communities, to talk things through to find that support, when I’m faced with making, you know, tough decisions that fall on me.

But Trust Insights is a small company, like, let’s take Salesforce as an example.

You know, the CEO of Salesforce, can’t necessarily run all of their thoughts and feelings past the other executives, because that’s just not how those companies work.

And a lot of things have to be kept under lock and key, a lot of things can’t be talked about until they happen.

And so I would imagine that, you know, they have to have a very small trusted group of advisors, you know, probably their families, people who they can really talk these things through with, that are outside of the environment.

And that’s a very healthy way to, you know, deal with it.

So like for you, Chris, if you were in my position, I would expect that you would have in a bad circle, a community outside of Trust Insights, that was supporting you even just to be a sounding board.

Not necessarily like a true board, but just like people who you know, you trust me like, Hey, can I run something past you? Or hey, you know, faced with a difficult decision, can we just talk about it?

Christopher Penn 23:30



Well, it sounds like we’ve got a lot of good intangible intangibles, to help leaders and, and individual contributors within an organization maintain their the conditions for motivation, but like you said, it is ultimately up to the person, the every individual and where they are emotionally to be able to harvest those conditions into the mode staying motivated.

If you’ve got some stories, or some ideas about how you have maintained motivation for yourself or others, pop on over to our free slack group go to trust for marketers, where you and over 3000 other marketers are helping motivate each other every single day.

And wherever it is you watch or listen to the show.

If there’s a challenge you would rather have it on go to trust AI podcast.

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Thanks for tuning in.

And we’ll talk to you next time.

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