The Secret to Motivating Employees?

February 17, 2011


I read an interesting Harvard Business Review Article this morning by Frederick Herzberg titled ‘How do you Motivate Employees’ . As a business owner and a coach to many clients with large numbers of employees, fighting to reduce employee turnover, it’s certainly a relevant topic and ongoing challenge for most people I speak to on a daily basis.

The article starts off by asking you to image your workforce so motivated, that employee relish more hours of work, not fewer, initiate increased responsibility themselves, and boast about their challenging work, not their pay checks or bonuses.
Sounds like an impossible dream right? Well, according to this article: apparently not, if we understand the counterintuitive force behind motivation – and the ineffectiveness of most performance incentives.   It’s an interesting article and it backs up my belief system and one I am constantly talking to clients about.   If your only motivation tactic is pay, then you will run out of either energy or money (or both). It has to be about more than that.

It’s a nice short article: so here it is: (Thanks Frederick!)

Motivation apparently, does not come from perks, plush offices, or even promotions or pay. These extrinsic incentives may stimulate people to put their noses to the grindstone – but they’ll likely perform only as long as it takes to get that next raise or promotion.

The truth? (yes please!) You and your organisation have only limited power to motivate employees. Yes, unfair salaries may damage morale. But when you do offer fat pay checks and other extrinsic incentives, people won’t necessarily work harder or smarter.

Why? Because most of us are motivated by intrinsic rewards: interesting, challenging work and the opportunity to achieve and grow into greater responsibility.

Of course, you have to provide some extrinisic incentives.  After all, few of us can afford to work for no salary. But the real key to motivating your employees is enabling them to activate their own internal generators. Other-wise, you’ll be stuck trying to recharge their batteries yourself – again and again.

So, by asking our employees what motivates them, why they come into work and what they are working towards, is the first step towards understanding how to motivate via intrinsic incentives.   I think a lot of employers assume that it’s all naturally about money. And sure, we all need money to live off, however, if we understand why the employee is choosing this job over the next, maybe we can trigger that internal motivatation and intrinsically incentivise them to stay.


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