How do you motivate the members of your team?

How to supercharge employee motivation


How do you motivate your employees? Financial bonuses? Stock options? Team outings? All are common, yet depending on the kind of business you lead, some may be more effective than others.

A book I think all leaders should read is Daniel Pink’s, “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us”. In it, he argues that our common carrot-and-stick understanding of what motivates people isn’t effective in all types of work. For jobs that involve cognitive and creative effort, monetary incentives can actually impair performance – meaning a different approach is necessary.

For these types of jobs, Pink argues we need to shift to a new paradigm involving three motivating factors: autonomy, mastery and purpose.

1) Allow employees to exercise autonomy

Autonomy speaks to our desire to be self-directed. Rather than being told “here’s what you’re going to do and how you’re going to do it”, people crave the autonomy to direct their work in a manner they choose.

Do your employees have the opportunity to exercise autonomy in their job?Do your employees have the opportunity to exercise autonomy in their job?

Pink describes a practice that is used by the software development company Atlassian. Once every quarter, management says to their teams, “For the next 24 hours, work on whatever you want, with whoever you want”. The only requirement was that at the end of the period everybody shares what they’d done with this creative time for the company. In these free-for-all periods, numerous fixes for software bugs were developed alongside many ideas for new products – All things that as Pink notes “that otherwise would never have emerged”.

Obviously, not all situations lend themselves to full autonomy. However, creating a work environment that allows for autonomy by the employees to some extent will not only improve productivity but also employee motivation.

2) Let employees develop mastery

Enabling your employees to master a skill can be a huge motivator.

People have a strong desire to improve themselves. The example Pink uses entails learning to play a musical instrument on the weekend. This is an activity that, in itself, seems confusing from an economic perspective – why would someone invest so much time and effort into something whose monetary reward seems almost certain to be nonexistent? The answer is simple – it’s fun and you’ll improve your skills and yourself.

Giving your employees the chance to master a skill is a huge motivator. Developing a skill that takes effort can be daunting at first. However, I almost always find if an employee is given the assurance that it won’t all be in vain, that is they’ll be able to use the new skill in their job, most jump at the opportunity to add something new to their skillset.

Don’t forget to think about yourself too – Mastering your leadership skills by taking management courses is a great way to keep your own motivation strong.

3) Give employees a purpose

Helping employees understand what their jobs contribute to in the grand scheme of things can prove to be incredibly motivating. Being driven by purpose is very effective when it comes to productivity and employee satisfaction, especially when times get tough and work needs to get done.

Do your employees have a greater purpose to work towards?Do your employees have a greater purpose to work towards?

Another example that Pink mentions is the development of products like Linux and Wikipedia – Things that people contribute in their own time, whilst also working full time jobs. Like playing a musical instrument, this can appear as a bizarre action from an economical point of view. These people aren’t getting paid to invest their precious time in writing for these sources, and yet they’re doing this work. Why? The prime motivating factor here is making a contribution to a greater cause. Wikipedia, for example, is a free resource that millions of people the world over benefit from daily. Playing a part in creating and improving these sources that are so frequently used by common people is extremely motivating.

Motivating your employees isn’t difficult once you know how. For more information or education on employee motivation and productivity, contact the team at ICML today.

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