5 Simple Ways to Increase Motivation in the Workforce

Motivation needs to begin and grow inside each of us individually. A truly motivated individual or team is the holy grail for many managers, and a leader who can spark motivation in individuals will find that leading is much more rewarding.

Many managers and leaders I have coached struggle with motivating employees. They are looking for the magic wand that will solve all the challenges associated with motivating employees. Unfortunately, as the old saying goes: “If it was that easy, everyone would have a magic wand.” 

A close friend and business colleague of mine continually reminds me that “motivation is an inside job.” Motivation is not formulaic, and never comes as a one-size-fits-all answer. Instead, motivation needs to begin and grow inside each of us individually. A truly motivated individual or team is the holy grail for many managers, and a leader who can spark motivation in individuals will find that leading is much more rewarding. Let’s look at five methods that can help managers tap into that inner drive and the visceral excitement that is ideal for any work environment. 

1. Change your mindset on what motivation is, who is responsible for creating a motivated employee, and how it is created. 

Many managers see motivation in simplistic ways. They frame it as transactional: Put something in and get a result back out. I recently came across an old episode of the sitcom, Two and a Half Men, with a comical example of this mentality. Alan, one of the main characters, was trying to find his purpose in life and what job would help him attain his purpose. The following quote from Alan describes how he had gotten through his work life so far: “I need a carrot in front of me and a stick behind me.” I found his description to be in line with the simplistic transactional approach most managers take, and what most employees think is a normal approach to motivation. Managers typically establish a goal to attain with a reward attached to it (the carrot), and at the same time create negative consequences if the goal is not attained (the stick). Since leaders often find this method ineffective to inspire true motivation, let’s look at an alternative.

2. Recognize the fact that the internal drivers are not the same for each person.

In the workshops I teach on management and leadership, I often utilize a module on motivation that provides a distinct alternative from the traditional carrot and stick. I begin by asking the participants a series of questions and gather their responses. The questions are:

  • Why do you work?
  • If you were to win a Powerball jackpot, how many of you would continue working here?
  • If you would not continue working here, what would you do?
  • Why would you do what you just said you would do above?

Through this questioning process we move from a combination of extrinsic responses (behaviors driven by external rewards in bullets one and two) to intrinsic responses (behaviors driven by internal rewards in bullets three and four). It should be noted here that Herzberg’s research links extrinsic drivers with hygiene factors. Hygiene factors are items such as benefits, salary, and working conditions, that if not available or acceptable, often lead to departure. However, these factors do not generate engagement or productivity. Examples of the extrinsic responses include, “I work for the money and benefits” and “It is what society expects.” These answers often show us why the number of people who would not work at their current employer after a jackpot win is very high. 

Examples of the intrinsic responses include, “Start my own business,” “Develop my hobbies more,” and “Go work for a not-for-profit.” Intrinsic reasons often include the desire to learn, to be challenged and grow, and to help people. Intrinsic responses give you a clearer window into what drives the person.

3. Find ways to uncover the drivers for those with whom you work.

Tapping into those intrinsic drivers is a key skill for any manager and leader. Ultimately, one of the roles of a leader is to create an environment where these intrinsic drivers can manifest. It is changing the carrot into a self-manifesting, intrinsic driver. In doing this, there is no need for the stick on the other end, which will be replaced by a self-driven desire to actualize an intrinsic driver. 

The process I described to unearth your team’s intrinsic drivers works well; however, creating an environment where it is comfortable and safe for people to express their drivers is key. Transparency on the part of the leader is an important start. The leader expressing their drivers will help set the tone. Additionally, how the leader responds to everyone’s drivers will also, over time, normalize the expression of drivers. Be patient; it takes time for a person to believe an organization is open to different internal motivators. 

4. Be creative in how you facilitate opportunities for those drivers to manifest in the workplace.

One of my passions is helping others learn by sharing my knowledge and experience from many years of managing and leading. I have accomplished this through teaching classes and coaching individuals, almost always in a face-to-face conversation. While this is my comfort zone, recently my business partner has been trying to get me to write more. This is not something I have passion for; I enjoy the spoken word and the immediate feedback I receive from personal interactions. Writing articles, books, and blogs takes me outside of my comfort zone. However, my interest in writing took off once we were able to discuss how writing can help me achieve my passion for helping others, and, more importantly, to memorialize my experiences and knowledge. While it is still hard to get started, it is becoming more difficult to stop. By knowing my intrinsic driver and, in this case my “mission,” I can easily link that personal vision to the organizational goals that writing achieves. 

5. Link the opportunities and the drivers you focus on to the mission and goals of your organization, then watch it all happen.

From the business perspective, my new dive into writing meets our mission of knowledge dissemination, helping create better workplaces, and improving the satisfaction of leaders and staff. These days, having a strong mission focus is not just for nonprofits; it has become an essential element of every initiative some organizations take. In my case, I was able to connect writing as a new means of helping others to the mission of our firm. 

Help make those connections for those with whom you work and the results will be stellar for the organization, the individuals, and yourself. We are leaders for a reason—we must impact staff in a way that helps individuals use their personal drivers in the workplace in order to bring benefits to the individual and the mission and goals of the organization.

Anthony Panos is a partner at the Organizational Performance Group. He specializes in executive and team coaching and training. Panos teaches, consults, and facilitates group meetings to improve organizational culture and streamline operations.