employee-motivation-296x300Motivation is considered the driving force that compels or reinforces an action toward a desired goal. Motivation can be divided into two types: intrinsic and extrinsic. Intrinsic motivation refers to motivation that is driven by an interest or enjoyment in the task itself, and exists within the individual rather than relying on external pressures or a desire for reward. On the other hand, extrinsic motivation refers to the performance of an activity in order to attain an outcome, whether or not that activity is also intrinsically motivated. Extrinsic motivation comes from outside the individual.

Having intrinsically motivated employees is critical to a successful and productive organization. If intrinsic motivation were absent than anything else would be a temporary fix. Motivation is a personal approach to dealing with people while different things in varying degrees may motivate each person. This requires a shift from traditional “management” into a more “leadership” role. The idea is that you                                           manage projects, but you lead people.

Try motivating your employees through freedom and responsibility. When managers try to intercede and direct the work too much, they limit the ability for the employee to exceed expectations. Managers should be concerned with what gets done and not necessarily how they get there.  Managers should present their employees with the big picture, let them know what needs to be accomplished, and then ask, “How do you want to get it done?”  By giving the employee more freedom to complete their task, they will feel better motivated to deliver great results.

Focus on your employees strengths. Everyone works differently and not everyone works the way you do. To better motivate try playing to your employees strengths. Place an emphasis on their contribution to the team. Compliment them for a job well done and encourage them to produce similar results.

TRUST. Trust your employees. Mistakes will be made, but you must look at mistakes as opportunities to fix problems and move on. Employees should be trusted to deliver exceptional results or else they will never feel motivated enough to do so.

Employees of all levels need a mentor. A mentor acts as an experienced advisor to whom the employee can trust and learn from. Mentors take a genuine interest in the future growth of an employee and their career. It goes without saying that having a manager who really cares about where his or her employee is headed will dramatically increase that employee’s attitude towards production.

On the same line as being a good mentor, managers should take into account their employees work-life balance. Managers should be flexible in schedules, understanding about family commitments, doctor’s appointments, etc. Being understanding of personal situations will be greatly appreciated down the line when these employees are asked to do something extra.

Listen to your employees. Listen to their ideas for job improvement, their problems, concerns, frustrations, conflicts, etc. Listening to your employees will allow you to further understand their strengths and weaknesses and better able you to direct them towards success.

Financial incentives can be both good and bad as a motivational technique. As stated in the beginning of this post, if an employee is lacking intrinsic motivators, than most likely any extrinsic motivators (financial incentives) will be short-lived and a proverbial Band-Aid for the problem.

Financial incentives can be very effective when used correctly. However, there are several ways companies incentive programs fail. One example of a poorly executed plan would be the carrot and stick approach. This approach refers to a policy of offering a combination of rewards and punishment to induce behavior. The name is referencing the act of dangling a carrot on a string in front of a mule while holding a stick behind it. The mule will naturally move forward towards the carrot (reward) while simultaneously moving away from the stick (punishment) an as a result move the cart forward (goal).  The idea behind this concept is that the employee will work hard towards an incentive they never actually receive. This ends up having an adverse effect and actually demotivates the employee.

Another motivational technique to be avoided is The Peter Principle.  The Peter Principle is commonly phrased “employees tend to rise to their level of incompetence”. This refers to the fact that members of an organization where promotion is based on achievement, success, and merit, will eventually be promoted beyond their level of ability.  While promoting employees up the ladder is a well-known motivator, that does not mean everyone is cut out for the next level above. Some people are great at task management, but are not necessarily built for managing people. The key is to speak with that individual prior to giving them their new position to see if they are ready for it.

Most importantly, don’t ignore intrinsic motivation. If you are finding that rewards, incentives, perks, benefits, raises, and promotions are all met with minimal success than maybe you are missing the most essential component.

I will leave you with this TED talk by Daniel Pink about the “Puzzle of Motivation“.


linkedin_picSam Fricchione is a Human Resources Consultant for Twinbrook Associates. He is currently completing a Master’s in Behavioral Science at Brown University, where he is active in recruiting and research related to employee performance and productivity.


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