4 Ways to Motivate Employees That Will Actually Work

October 17, 2016

The key is improving an employee's intrinsic motivation.

Motivating employees to do their best has been a struggle for organizations since the beginning of time. The most common solution has been extrinsic rewards, such as more money, more time off or an award.

Those techniques are great, but they generally only increase a person’s extrinsic motivation, i.e. the motivation to do something to reach a desired outcome. And while extrinsic motivators are critical – few of us would come to work if we didn’t get paid – they often are overused, and put too much emphasis on the outcomes themselves.

Compare that to intrinsic motivation, which is motivation driven by enjoyment of the work itself. If you can improve a person’s intrinsic motivation, you’ll cause them to take more pride in their craft and bring out their best work.

So how do you increase an employee’s intrinsic motivation? In his course on Motivating and Engaging Employees, LinkedIn Learning Instructor and Leadership Guru Todd Dewett explained four techniques any organization can adopt to make that happen.

They are:

1. Make your organization a purpose-driven one.

A mere 30 percent of employees consider themselves purpose driven. And yet, employees who fall in that category experience 64 percent higher levels of fulfillment with their jobs and are 47 percent more likely to be promoters of their company.

The point? Purpose-driven employees are intrinsically driven and care more about the work they do, as opposed to how much they are paid for it. Therefore, one way to motivate your employees is for your organization to have a clearly defined purpose and to explain how its actions fit within it.

For example, LinkedIn itself is a purpose-driven company, with the goal of creating economic opportunity for all of the world’s professionals. And whenever a new product is released – for example, LinkedIn Learning – it’s to further that mission (in LinkedIn Learning’s case, by giving people the skills they need to reach that opportunity).

It’s far more intrinsically motivating to work on a project that furthers a mission, as opposed to one seeking to merely increase the bottom line.

2. Make positions as autonomous as possible, so employees have a sense of ownership.

In a previous article, we outlined Dewett’s solution on how to manage without micromanaging. That’s critical, because people who feel like they have a true sense of autonomy at their jobs generally have a higher sense of ownership over their work and greater intrinsic motivation.

For example, if you tell someone exactly what to do and exactly how to do it, they’ll likely be focused purely on just getting the job done to get the reward that comes with it. However, if you tell someone what needs to be done and give them the freedom to do it how they want, they’ll care far more about the final product.

3. Give employees a feeling of competence through positive reinforcement.

Imagine every time you performed karaoke, the crowd would either be obviously disinterested or outright boo you. How many times would you perform karaoke?

Probably twice, tops. Nobody wants to do something they think they’re terrible at.

Conversely, imagine that whenever you performed karaoke, the crowd went wild. Chances are, you’d be planning karaoke trips every weekend, just hoping someone would “drag” you on stage.

The point is people want to do something they feel they’re good at. Hence, managers providing sincere gratitude to their employees for a job well done goes a long way to increasing their intrinsic motivation.

4. Employees need a sense of progress.

This means two things. First off, often employees work on projects that can take months to complete, and goals can seem far away. Managers should highlight their progress and express confidence that the project will reach its goals.

Same goes for an employee’s individual progress, as people want to know they are getting better. If a manager calls out how an employees has improved, it’ll serve as powerful positive reinforcement that they are becoming better professionals and closer to reaching their career goals.

Tying it all together

There’s an expression that says if someone comes to you for the money, they’ll leave for the money. There’s some truth to that, and if you focus solely on extrinsic motivators, your organization will never breed the type of loyalty and rigor it needs to be great.

Instead, by utilizing the four tactics Dewett mentioned, you emphasis the work itself, instead of what that work can get an employee. And that makes for more motivated people who care far more about the work they produce.

Click here to watch Dewett's full course on motivating and engaging employees. Or better yet, download our ebook on how to build great leaders throughout your entire organization.

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