Here’s What Really Motivates Your Employees (It’s Not What You Think)

Dangling a carrot

In Daniel Pink’s book Drive, the underlying message is that a leader can provide a motivating environment but can’t motivate his or her employees; motivation comes from within each individual.

This goes entirely against the common belief that given more carrots, an employee will be motivated to behave in ways that will increase the success of a company. Yet, time and again, leaders have found that providing more money and better benefits, extrinsic motivators, only provides a short-term effect on behavior. Extrinsic motivators are not sustainable.

In yesterday’s article Top 5 Leadership Mistakes, one of them was misunderstanding motivation.

I outlined the three attributes that, when implemented effectively within the organization, can increase the long-term behavioral changes the leader is looking to instill in the organization.

And what can a company expect from its employees when they provide an environment that provides for autonomy, mastery, and purpose?

An academic study by Richard Ryan and Edward Deci in 2000 issue of American Psychologist showed that focusing on internal motivators can lead to higher self-esteem and self-actualization, while a focus on external motivators, on average, leads to lower self-esteem and self-actualization.

In turn, employees driven by internal motivators demonstrated a greater level of persistence, creativity, energy, and well being, which increased the performance level of those employees.

So if, in fact, employee performance increases with intrinsic motivators, why aren’t more companies creating and implementing a plan to transition to a culture of autonomy, mastery and purpose? Because it is not easy! It is a massive shift in long-term beliefs and requires both employer and employees to change their mindset as well as the way they work.

What are the critical success factors to transitioning your workplace to an intrinsically motivated organization? They are the three C’s:

  1. Creativity: Be able to devise innovative ways of working outside the traditional mode. Bring in outside assistance if you don’t find you are making the progress you desire.
  2. Communication: Changes to the work process need to be communicated to all employees via multiple methods. Communication should be ongoing and frequent and provide employees with the opportunity to have their questions answered.
  3. Change Management: Demonstrate how the changes will positively affect employees, create methods to identify employees who may be struggling with the changes, and have resources available to help them adjust.

Beth Armknecht Miller, CMC

Author: Are You Talent Obsessed?, Leadership Development Advisor, Vistage Chair, Speaker, Executive Coach

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