Getting the Inside Scoop on Motivation

Whether an inside job or working from the outside in, motivation on the job is no easy task.

I have always loved the simple explanation for motivation that it is your “motive” to action. This made me think of the sign I saw the other day that said, “I dream of a better world where chickens can cross the road without having their motives questioned.”

However, motivation from a scientific viewpoint is always described as the psychological factors we all have, such as needs, desires, wants, or drives within us that cause us to do the things we do each and every day.

The tricky part is applying this frequently misunderstood concept on the job.


From a workplace and management perspective, the question often is asked: How can you motivate another person?

The reality is motivation is not something a manager has direct control over. Each of us is already motivated. We are simply motivated by different things in life, and these can change over time. The bottom line is an employee who comes across as highly motivated tends to work harder than the unmotivated person next to him or her.

Trying to motivate someone else is simply a difficult thing to do. This is because there are both conscious and unconscious elements to motivation. For example, how strong is a person’s desire or need to obtain something or do a particular task? Their parents, upbringing, or social status all may influence motivation, which the individual may not even be fully aware of. What are their personal expectations or the expectations of those they live or work with? Expectations are mostly internal in nature, but they also can be externally set by the social group one works in or grew up in.

Another factor to consider is the value from doing a specific action or the reward value from achieving the goal or task itself. We constantly count the intrinsic and extrinsic cost of certain behaviors and may sacrifice this willingly, or consider the payoff, so to speak, from reaching the desired outcome.

As a manager or leader, your time is probably best spent helping employees identify their personal motivators. Once you and they know what those are, you can more easily mesh their job roles and responsibilities to be more in line with their identified motivators.


Certainly, we can be motivated extrinsically by the external outcomes that come to us from doing our work on the job. Consider the situation where you could be promoted to a promised job position when you have completed all the steps in the career path laid out for you. Or you can earn a bonus on top of your regular base salary for achieving a sale of the latest software solution to a major client.

If you follow Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, you know some people may be driven more by physiological and security needs, which sometimes are dependent on their economic circumstances or where they live. A concern, though, is that a reliance on only external motivation and rewards can create an expectation and entitlement mentality for more of the same. That’s when you can run into problems.

Supervisors and managers must be careful not to think of rewards and external motivators as tools to manipulate employees. Rather, rewards are great reinforcers for achieving specific outcomes. The more natural and consequential the external motivator, the better it is for the person and the more meaningful and effective it will be.


You and I know there are some things you simply love to do. You are motivated from the inside out.

You might have a hobby you spend a lot of time doing, such as photography or painting. It is so interesting and enjoyable to you that time disappears whenever you are caught up in it.

On the job, you can be equally intrigued and motivated by an unusual challenge assigned to you to solve or when you’ve completed a project you’ve been working on forever.

Maslow’s hierarchy tends to state you must meet your basic needs through things such as pay and benefits to take care of your physical needs first before you will progress to the next stages of motivation—such as obtaining recognition or becoming the best you can be through service to others and self-actualization.

Lately, motivation has been labeled as version 3.0, referring to us being influenced by the need for autonomy, mastery and purpose, and a more self-directed focus of motivation.


There are two aspects to rewards or extrinsic motivation to remember.

First is the controlling factor whereby people view extrinsic motivators as “controllers” of behavior. When the controlling element is focused on, it reduces satisfaction of the need for autonomy and creates a dependence on someone else for a person’s source of motivation. This actually can undermine an employee’s intrinsic motivation.

Second is the informational factor, which satisfies an individual’s need for competence and enhances his or her intrinsic motivation. This would be akin to the concept of mastery.

Research findings show that if you want to increase the quantity of work output, the use of rewards or extrinsic motivators may work well. However, if you want to see quality and creativity improve, it is best to draw upon intrinsic motivation and recognition that focus on growth versus achievement. The critical piece here is having a purpose to focus on rather than just the outcome.

Keep in mind that behavioral economists point out that extrinsic rewards and intrinsic motivation can crowd out each other. They highlight that increasing extrinsic rewards has the result of decreasing intrinsic motivation.

It is obvious that extrinsic and intrinsic motivation are not easy elements to understand or effectively utilize in the workplace. The one thing I see repeatedly is that motivation is not something that can be managed by others. Motivation is a do-it-yourself job.

Hopefully, you will be motivated on the inside to study this topic on a much deeper level, so you can use it well externally on the job.

Roy Saunderson is author of “GIVING the Real Recognition Way” and Chief Learning Officer at Rideau Recognition Solutions. His consulting and learning skills focus on helping companies “give real recognition the right way wherever they are.” For recognition insights, visit: For more information, e-mail him at or visit

Roy Saunderson, MA, CRP
Roy Saunderson, MA, CRP, is author of “Practicing Recognition” and Chief Learning Officer at Rideau Recognition Solutions. His consulting and learning skills focus on helping companies “give real recognition the right way wherever they are.” For recognition insights, visit: For more information, e-mail him at: or visit: