When Motivating or Enabling Employees, Tap Into Their Internal Drive

In the race to hire and keep top talent, benefits—including compensation, policies, and insurance—are getting a lot of attention. Some companies are even taking unusual measures like leasing Teslas for employees and paying up to $20,000 for employees’ weddings, showing that creativity of perks may know no bounds.

As important as compensation and benefits are, we know they are not the only things that matter when it comes to keeping employees productive and engaged. These benefits are a part of a larger motivation equation.

What are the other important factors to consider when motivating or enabling employees? And what can employers do to boost motivation?

A team of CCL researchers looked at these questions. Building on an established theory that people have 4 different types of motivation at work, they looked at how motives work together to influence job attitudes that are important for employees’ retention and performance.

The research involved 321 U.S. managers from numerous organizations, working at the middle, upper-middle, and executive levels. The study measured levels of external motivation and 3 types of internal motivation, which in combination, resulted in 6 “managerial motivational profiles.”

The research findings are published in the Journal of Vocational Behavior and are detailed in the white paper Motivating Your Managers: What’s the Right Strategy?

Managers who were the most satisfied with their jobs and committed to their organizations were either:

  • Internally driven—Their motivation comes primarily from within; they are motivated by a desire to maintain their self-images, pursue their values and goals, and engage in enjoyable or interesting work.
  • Self-directed—Their primary sources of motivation are pursuing their personal values, goals, and interests. These managers do what is personally important to them or enjoyable. They are less concerned about pursuing rewards or maintaining their self-images.

In both cases, high internal motivation is the key to unlocking satisfaction, commitment, and performance.

3 Ways to Boost Employee Motivation

This research also suggests that organizations can create environments that foster internal motivation in 3 primary ways:

1. Expecting bosses to provide support and encourage self-direction. Managers must believe that their bosses value their contributions and care about them as individuals.

Managers who are supported by their boss have a sense of security and self-worth that allows them to draw on internal motivation. In contrast, when support is lacking, managers feel threatened and insecure and will draw on less internal motivation.

Bosses should also behave in ways that allow managers to use their inner resources, including giving feedback in ways that encourage problem solving rather than imposing solutions. They should listen to managers’ ideas, understand their interests and preferences, and find ways to align organizational needs with work that is personally meaningful.

2. Creating rewards systems that affirm. Extrinsic rewards are a fundamental part of organizational life; their impact depends on how the rewards are designed and administered.

Affirming rewards recognize managers for fulfilling important, challenging goals. Common rewards such as pay increases, bonuses, stock options, promotions, and recognition are affirming if they are tied to important goals and are not administered in an oppressive manner.

Being rewarded for achieving such goals boosts managers’ feelings of competence and task mastery. Managers’ sense of their own capabilities is enhanced, thereby increasing their internal motivation.

3. Minimizing organizational politics and promoting fairness. In many organizations, the environment is highly politicized and managers feel that they must engage in political behavior (e.g., connecting to players with clout, manipulating others, stifling honest criticism, going along with others’ ideas and actions) to maintain or advance their own status.

Such an environment interferes with managers’ internal motivation, as they work to maintain their image and gain external approval rather than acting from within. Organizational systems and leaders should ensure that rewards and promotions are based on valid measures of qualifications and performance rather than connections to powerful people.

By all means, offer the compensation, benefits and perks that employees need, deserve, and expect. But, for the most positive outcomes, be sure to pair that with an environment that fosters internal motivation.

Emerging Leadership Trends Report

For more tips on motivating and enabling employees, download our white paper, Motivating Your Managers: What’s the Right Strategy?

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