Photo credit: iStock photo/ipopba

When you need to heat something up, it doesn’t take a science degree to figure out a few basic methods.

First (and perhaps most obvious), you can simply put that something in a fire. Heating things from the outside makes them hot, a process known as conduction.

A second option is to soak the something in hot water. The heat of the water is transmitted and—you guessed it—the thing gets hot. This is a process known as convection.

A third option is the one used for making some of Japan’s great delicacies, including miso and soy sauce, as well as wine. In the case of wine, crush a few grapes, maybe add some sugar and water, sprinkle in a little yeast, and close the mixture up in barrels. Over time, the yeast will create an exothermic reaction that transforms the juice and emits heat. This is a process known as fermentation.

So what does any of this have to do with how leaders motivate employees?

Team members put their hands together with a heat blur showing energy is how to motivate employees
iStock/marchmeena29

Applying Science to Motivate Employees

1. Become a heat conductor.

Before transferring enthusiasm to motivate employees, a leader must him (or her) self become a source of enthusiasm—the fire that transfers the heat. Conduction. While this often works well, it’s important not to go overboard. Too much attention or enthusiasm can annoy your people—or worse, can be seen as harassment.

In other words, fire can help you cook, but you don’t want to burn down the kitchen.

2. Become a convection oven.

But maybe it isn’t just one employee who needs the heat, or maybe it’s unrealistic to go from person to person on a team. Sometimes a leader needs to impact a whole team at once.

In these cases, managers or companies may find it useful to renovate human resources processes, radically change compensation systems, or otherwise change the organization’s culture. Here we have the equivalent of raising the water temperature to heat things up: convection.

3. Become a fermentation powerhouse.

But maybe a leader isn’t looking to spend his or her days motivating single employees, or simply doesn’t have the power to make sweeping changes to the organization. This leaves us with our third method: fermentation.

Believe it or not, this is potentially the most powerful way to get heat. It can also be the most challenging.

Remember the wine, and how heat was generated from within. Likewise, leaders can stimulate a self-enlightenment reaction in employees, helping them build awareness of themselves to generate their own sense of motivation. This is the ideal of many organizations: professionals who stand as individuals. The self-motivated and successful.

Now you’re probably wondering, “Where’s my yeast?” Without yeast (or a similar microorganism), fermentation doesn’t work. In the world of management and leadership, the yeast is the idea, the vision, or the philosophy that keeps your company moving.

As you might imagine, when it comes to this vision or philosophy, not just anything will do. You need the right catalyst to generate the reaction. Additionally, you need the right ingredients—the right grapes, water, sugar, and even the right barrels. The yeast does not stand alone, as it were. All of these elements need to work in harmony to achieve the desired reaction and result.

When successful, this method can help leaders ignite a self-sustaining heating source in each employee that will carry whole teams to a new level of productivity.

Cooking with Heat

There’s a lot of advice out there for how to motivate employees. In fact, there’s so much (and so much that’s been repeated time and again), that leaders seeking help can feel like they’re wading through a sea of tired clichés. At times like this, we need to think outside the box and seek our own motivation in unexpected places. Like, say, in the literal science of heat. The added bonus of looking to non-theoretical hard science means you can often apply metaphors directly. What’s fermentation in the context of an office? What’s the heat? Where’s your yeast?

If you need to motivate employees, that might mean your own motivation could use a jolt. Try applying a little literal science, and you may just wow yourself with a burst of flame (in a good way)!