Glint’s Jim Barnett discusses why we need to tap into employees’ inner motivation to see the best results


A piece of published HR data analysis has found that when it comes to motivating people to complete complex jobs involving creativity, inner motivation was nearly six times more effective than any external motivators in predicting performance.


Performance bonuses, promotions, salary increases or sabbaticals all play a role in helping to motivate the workforce, as do the use of methods like ‘pay for performance’. The vast majority of organisations use a mix of these approaches to encourage their teams to perform, as well as to uphold values and deliver on brand promise.


The danger stems from focusing exclusively on these transactional ways of supporting individual contribution, and ignoring the team member’s internal motivators. Just concentrating on the external reward can be unwelcome to employees, with them feeling as though their behaviour is being controlled. Instead of feeling excited and challenged to exceed a work target, externally motivated people who reach their goals sometimes tend to go no further and require ongoing reward to sustain performance.


To be clear, intrinsic motivation is defined as the boost you feel about the work you are engaged in, rather than the reward (extrinsic motivation) you might secure for completing a task. It’s the sense of ownership and personal pride you experience when you have the opportunity to manage work tasks for yourself.


In fact, social psychology has identified several key enablers of intrinsic motivation, including frequent and open exchange between managers and their team members; high autonomy and trust bestowed on individuals; and a strong match between an employee’s individual strengths, passions, and values and their work projects. Please note that while these needs are generally universally experienced, it’s important to factor in our particular personalities and the fact that we are intrinsically motivated in different ways. Managers and supervisors need to keep in regular contact with their teams in order that they are able to personalise the employee experience appropriately and accurately, taking into account this irreducible human factor.


Another key piece of HR research, the new 2020 Edelman trust barometer, a key marker for employee sentiment, reveals that 73% of employees expect a prospective employer to offer the opportunity to shape the future of society in a positive manner. That’s because staff are looking for inspiration and a sense of belonging, as well as the attraction of any external rewards.


And tapping into your employees’ intrinsic motivation stream can have really powerful consequences. For one firm in the transportation industry, for example, careful analysis of feedback provided by the organisation’s nearly 100,000+ workforce using modern employee engagement technology meant its leaders were soon able to spot a high correlation between employee engagement levels and the risk of injury on the job. But the firm also identified that it wasn’t contextual factors, like the availability of injury-prevention resources, that caused the biggest variance in injury rates across its locations; this new data showed that the employees who were generally safer at work were those who expressed a sense of belonging, trust, and empowerment — proving its people were motivated first and foremost by intrinsic drivers.


Frequent conversations


The basis for cultivating your employees’ intrinsic motivation is a strong engagement-centric workplace culture. To build such a culture, people must have frequent conversations about priorities, performance, and growth. Focused, ongoing conversations help people know what’s expected of them and why, get connected to the resources and people they need to be effective, and know how they’re doing vis-a-vis their business and development goals.


Regularly conducted, lightweight employee engagement surveys can inform, nudge, and reinforce the importance of those conversations. Add in a coaching (vs. evaluative) mindset to the process and the results can be dramatic. More than just offering feedback, coaching actively helps team members navigate their future success, encouraging them to tap into their intrinsic motivators.


All in all, a sense of purpose, belonging and ownership are a big part of what motivates employees to show up and do their best work, rather than just watching the clock and taking home the pay packet. It’s critical to acknowledge this and start reengineering our HR and performance processes to realise the undeniable potential intrinsic motivation has in revolutionising what you and your business can achieve.


The author is CEO of employee engagement leader Glint, now part of LinkedIn