3 methods to tap into the intrinsic motivation of your employees

intrinsic motivation

We also know, as parents do, external motivation or rewards wane or become less powerful over time. One lollipop as a bribe for peace now becomes two candy bars next time around. People generally will not remain fulfilled on the same salary, title, position or bonuses indefinitely without other forces at play. Enter internal motivation. The starting point is recognising and knowing the individual why, writes Mark Carter

Understanding and identifying intrinsic motivation is another tool in HR’s armory to affect pillars such as culture and performance. When you learn to tap into the internal drive of individuals you unleash a secret, often hidden ingredient: discretionary effort. There is a big clue to this ‘magical fairy dust like element’ in its label: discretionary.

Meaning, the moment HR or a business feels compelled to coerce, subtly suggest or bluntly ask for that extra percentile, or a willingness to do a tad more than is required, the ingredient itself is negated. It’s no longer discretionary. The mechanics of personal effort in this regard are like the laws and mechanics of quantum physics: the moment you observe, demand to know or micro-manage, the magic is gone.

There are subtle, smart ways that we can recognise and inspire the ignition that sets each individual soul on fire. Doing so, stoking it positively, healthily, subtly helps continued drive towards both individual and business goals.

Typically, business leaders had a tendency to focus on ‘performance’ goals alone when coaching or developing their people. Yet this focus is quite narrow.

Identifying intrinsic motivators.
We know the concept of external motivation: incentive or reward programs are an example. In addition to the obvious ones: base salary and remuneration packages people are willing to trade their time and effort for.

We also know, as parents do, external motivation or rewards wane or become less powerful over time. One lollipop as a bribe for peace now becomes two candy bars next time around. People generally will not remain fulfilled on the same salary, title, position or bonuses indefinitely without other forces at play. Enter internal motivation. The starting point is recognising and knowing the individual why.

Internal motivation is also a little like travel. If you ask people where they would like to visit next, or what their trip will entail, answers may be endless. However, you may begin to bucket them into categories such as continents or even themes such as: nature, adventure, museums, shopping, idle leisure, and nightlife.

The model by Eduard Spranger, Types of Men, remains a sound starting point for clues as to the primary driving forces of an individual.

  • Knowledge and learning
  • ROI, return and utility
  • Aesthetic and experience
  • Social and community
  • Individual and political
  • Traditional and system of living

Generally, people will have a couple of priority areas. You’ll hear them in descriptions, especially if you learn to ask or structure internal surveys with smart, thoughtful questions underpinned by genuine interest. The clues are in their answers. All you have to do is listen with intent.

Align external rewards with their internal fire
Sales environments are easy as quick case study and lesson. Whilst sales people may well appreciate the money don’t assume it’s always the case or their primary driving force. Learn to adapt incentives and rewards.

Maybe instead of money put that towards a program of their choosing (knowledge), towards an experience of their choosing (aesthetic), a donation towards a charity (social), trade access for resources or responsibilities (individual), or ensure sound ethics (system of living).

Continue to adapt and align periodically as internal drive isn’t necessarily static. They may shift based on situation, circumstance, or stages of life. It’s no surprise some studies by the likes of Nielsen or engage for good find employees are more interested in the social responsibility of the businesses they’ll work for than salary alone…

The mechanics of personal effort in this regard are like the laws and mechanics of quantum physics: the moment you observe, demand to know or micro-manage, the magic is gone.

Three types of goals
Two decades ago, I built a framework for coaching that has proved successful long term. Typically, business leaders had a tendency to focus on ‘performance’ goals alone when coaching or developing their people. Yet this focus is quite narrow. When you ask people what truly drives them, a year from now, five years from now, it’s rare the answer is ‘to reduce errors by 4.6 per cent’ or ‘increase sales by 27 per cent’!

These all have merit as performance goals yet two others drive the totality of each individual. Learning goals means continually improving skills. Which by the way is frequently symbiotic with performance goals, although not necessarily so. And fulfillment goals; often the biggest motivators, are about personal achievement in all areas of life

Continue to adapt and align periodically as internal drive isn’t necessarily static. They may shift based on situation, circumstance, or stages of life.

When you learn to help people navigate and achieve all three types of goals there’s a good chance you are also tapping into some of that internal drive and they are better in all they do, including performance.

We could run separate features on deeper dive coaching or these extended goals yet in the context here three things are practical to tap internal fire. Learn to ask better questions, be contemporary with your constructs for reward and recognition and perhaps leverage solid dynamic surveys (specialist organisations like Qualtrics are great here) to keep your finger on the pulse.

Chances are when you quicken the heart rate tapping that individual internal drive, discretionary effort will be set, positively, subtly on fire.

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