In my years of training and consulting, I have at times been labeled a “motivational speaker.” I take that as a huge compliment, but it always makes me think about the topic of motivation and how it applies to the success of our companies.

Even though I do use the term “motivate,” I believe that, overall, people cannot be motivated by another individual. That individual might create an environment for them to motivate themselves — or tell them something in a way they’ve never thought of before — but you can’t force motivation on someone.

Now, this is not meant to frustrate you into thinking you can’t motivate your salespeople to sell more or your CSR’s to book more calls; you can absolutely influence positive change and improve results. I simply want you to think differently about how you are doing it. I mentioned creating an environment for your team members to motivate themselves — that’s what it’s about.

We are also, however, looking to impact long-term results, not just short-term behaviors. You’ve seen the impact of “motivating” team members on a short-term basis — a sales contest that boosted performance for a minute, sales training that gave you an extra increase and then faded after a period of time. I’m sure you have experienced it.

As a trainer, I am always asked about making training “stick” and why people fall back into their old ways. This isn’t a matter of motivation, my friends — it’s a matter of three things: habit formation, reinforcement, and commitment.


Habit formation

Training that you implement in your company doesn’t fall short because your team members aren’t motivated to keep it going — the excitement of trying something new simply wears off and they fall back into their old habits. Like a child with a new toy, it’s so exciting at first and they can’t wait to play with it, but the excitement wears off and they go back to playing with their old toys, too. They might occasionally play with the new toy, but that’s not their entire focus.

So, what’s the first step in keeping your training going, or keeping your team engaged? Habit formation.

You’ve probably heard all the theories about how long it takes to form a new habit and/or replace an old one. These numbers range from 21 days to 66 days, and everything in between. There are lots of scientific studies that have been done, but it comes down to desire and commitment.

Everyone has their reasons for making a change and committing to a new habit; it’s their own personal “why.” Simply telling someone, “This is the way we are doing it now,” without explanation or relating a benefit to them is setting the new habit up for failure.

People don’t decide to lose weight because it’s fun; they form habits to help them lose weight because they want to be healthier or look better. However, weight loss efforts (like sales training) often fail because there isn’t enough structured reinforcement.


Reinforcement and structure

Habits don’t stick without reinforcement. This is why training follow-up programs and ride-alongs are so important. Even if team members are seeing results with a new sales technique, that doesn’t mean they will always keep it going. Why? Usually because it’s not as comfortable as the way they used to do it. It hasn’t made its way into their subconscious, so it’s not as easy. Forming a habit takes effort, brainpower, and willpower.

Structure is an important part of the reinforcement process because it helps the new habit form and become part of daily life. Most people brush their teeth at least once in the morning and once in the evening, and it doesn’t take much thought. That behavior was reinforced by parents and dentists as a child, and the system is to brush your teeth at certain times of day, usually tied to another habit of leaving the house or going to bed. Habits are interwoven, so you always need to explain how new habits fit into the structure of a day or a specific part of a sales call.

For example, I have a 12-step sales process that I recommend to all my clients because it creates structure and a “first this, then this” approach. Then, adding new techniques and reinforcing what’s already been taught is much easier because you can fit them into a specific part of the process.

If you don’t reinforce a habit, while continuing to restate the win-win-win benefits for them, the client, and the company, it’s simply too easy to fall back into the old ways of doing things. Setting specific expectations and goals, while reinforcing the “why” and the behavior, will help you gain commitment from your team members.



Commitment is the real reason habits stick (or don’t). The key is that your team members must want to make a change on some level. They need to understand why they are doing it, and finding out what’s important to them as a person will help you understand their personal triggers.

Some people are triggered to perform better (make more money) by the desire to make a nicer life for their family, some want to travel more, some want to save for a great retirement situation, etc. For some people, making a commitment to themselves is enough; for others, they need the accountability of other people (a spouse, friend, or coworker) to strengthen them. When setting goals, many people don’t reach them because they haven’t fully committed to them. This is where accountability partners and posting goals is so helpful.

If you are experiencing a lack of commitment from a team member, you need to figure out how to make a better environment for them to succeed, and any environment is simply how they perceive it. For example, many millennials value time off more than making a few extra dollars. Create an environment where they feel like they are being listened to and rewarded in the way they want to be rewarded. This helps them commit to change easier and “motivate” themselves to succeed. It never hurts to take team members aside and have a meeting with them about personal expectations, triggers, and goals.

Even though you can’t personally motivate your team members to do something, you can have a huge influence on helping them motivate themselves. As you do this in different areas of the company, you will see a big shift in the ease of implementing changes when you focus on habit formation, reinforcement, and commitment.