How To Motivate Employees?

One of the million-dollar questions that organizations want to know is: How do I motivate my workforce? How do we engage the employees that work for us?

If we’re going to think about how to motivate employees; we need to understand and get underneath the hood of what drives human behavior in the workplace; why do people do what they do when they come to work? Wouldn’t we all like to know that? So let’s dive into the science behind what drives motivation. But in order to understand motivation; we have to understand that there are some myths about motivation.

“Motivation is just about energy” myth

So one of the myths is “motivation is just about energy”, motivation is the intensity that I bring to the job, and motivation is my ability to get up and come to work and just give 120%; so is that the whole story? Well! It’s part of the story; the other side of the story is yeah, it’s about energy, it’s about quantity, but it’s also about quality.

So let’s think about the employee who is motivated very productively; they do a lot of activities at their work that causes them to bring positive outcomes; so if they are a sales rep, they’re generating leads, they’re following up on those leads, they’re closing deals, and they’re generating revenue for the company; those are all positive motivations; however some people also bring to the table negative motivations and we all have a combination of each both positive and negative; so those that are productive for us and those that are counterproductive.


So let’s illustrate the point: Charlie Sheen is a great example; is he motivated? Absolutely; is he a great and talented actor? Yeah no question about that; but does he come with counterproductive motivations as well? Yes, he does; He’s a great actor but he’s a drug addict, he’s a womanizer, and he throws tantrums on the set.

Do you have Charlie Sheen in the workplace?

So, can’t we think of somebody that we’ve worked with over the years like the Charlie Sheen? don’t we have co-workers that we’ve worked with in the past that man may we think, “gosh; they’ve got such great potential; but look at that baggage they carry; they’re draining me, they come with toxic behaviors, and they just suck the life out of our teams”.

I know, you’re recalling somebody and you’ve got a face in your mind “Yeah I’ve worked with that person”. So what we want to think about when it comes to motivation is there is a quantity aspects, but more importantly there’s a quality aspect. So keep in mind that:

Success in our life is determined by elevating or maximizing our productive motivations and minimizing our counterproductive motivations

Team building according to their motivations

When we think about how to motivate employees; we need first to be extremely careful about when we engineer teams; because we want to make sure we’re putting people that are healthy together

neuroscientists have proven over the last five years that we as humans are hard-wired to connect with others; whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert you are hard-wired to connect; the introverts just want smaller social circles of people that they know very well; the extroverts it’s like a spray in a room they walk into a room, and the whole room is a bunch of friends they just haven’t met yet, so we might have different approaches to it.

But neuroscientist has said, “not only we are hardwired to connect but also our brains will not thrive at their full capacity unless we are a part of the healthy group”. Let me say that again “our brains will never be fully realized unless we are part of the healthy group”

a lot of times we just kind of throw teams together to work on a project; but the reality is if we’re not careful about how we engineer our teams, we can really set the project up for failure;

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If we have three high performers and we put that C player on that team; don’t we think that those high performers are really going to take that low performer and bring them up? I mean that’s what we would just intuitively think; but what do you think the research says about that? The research says “no, it drags the top performers down”

So when we have the Charlie Sheens type workers in our group; they’re toxic, and they create chaos around in their group; so we need to be very careful about how we engineer our teams

“Motivation is a one size fits” myth

The second myth about “how to motivate employees” is we often think that motivation is one-size-fits-all; so I just need to bring my team together, and I just need to inspire them. Right? But unfortunately, that way doesn’t work because it doesn’t fit all.

The secret to motivation is that it’s not a one-size-fits-all; people have different motivational styles; so what really is motivation? Motivation hasn’t had a lot of clarity until the past couple of years, and we’ve really dug into what is driving that human behavior? But when we look at what is motivation? It’s very simple

“Motivation is our drive to go seek pleasure and avoid pain”

So as humans we are just hardwired to go seek pleasure, we want to go get that degree, we want to go get that job we want, to go get that awesome spouse; but we’re also motivated to avoid pain, I don’t want trouble coming into my life, I’ve got a problem solving, I’ve got to get it out, I don’t want anything impacting my success; so that’s our ability to effectively avoid pain; so

“How successful we are in life is dependent on how many productive motivations we have, and how effectively we are minimizing our counterproductive behaviors”

And so when we look at the pleasure and pain; our research has shown that we can not only measure motivation but we can also identify the key motivational factors that contribute to our success, and on the pleasure side there are two motivations

  • ambition
  • and accountability

Example: how to motivate employees like Mary and Bob

  • If Mary is very driven in ambition; she’s just the most ambitious person, I can put her on a project, and I just tell her “here’s what I need you to do, and she runs with it; she is excited, she sees the world in opportunities; so that’s somebody who’s highly driven highly motivated on the pleasure side.
  • Now I’ve got Bob; Bob over here is highly motivated on the pain side; he wants to avoid pain, he has just able to be a protector of the organization, and he’s looking at what is everything that could go wrong, they’re great at mitigating risk for our companies, and so they have this innate ability that I call “the power of noticing”, they notice clues, they notice issues; when they see anything that could go wrong, they say “hey, wait just a minute, that could cause our company pain, that can bring trouble, that can jeopardize everything that we’ve built”

So they are highly motivated to protect what they have, they don’t care much about bringing in a lot of new opportunities, but they want to protect and preserve what they have.

Again how to motivate employees

Now we all have a combination of both, so how do I motivate my employees? Well! You’re asking the wrong question because your employees are already motivated; the question you should be asking is how do I unleash it? How do I unleash their already existing motivation?

  • So if I’m communicating with Mary who’s extremely motivated on the pleasure side; and she sees the world is all these wonderful opportunities; I’m going to talk to her about the benefits and all the positives that I see with this.
  • On the other side; if I’m talking to Bob who is highly motivated to protect and prevent problems and mitigate risk, then if I go to him and approach him like I just did with Mary, and I say “Bob let me tell you about the awesome reasons that we should bring this new project on, we’re going to increase market share, we’re going to bring in new clients”; what’s Bob going to think “I don’t care now” so how to motivate employees like Bob
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How to motivate Bob

If I don’t understand Bob as a leader if I walk away, what am I going to think? “Bob just not motivated, Bob’s not motivated, I can’t get them to buy into this, I don’t know what the deal is, I see all these wonderful things, and I can’t get Bob to buy in”

Well! the problem is not Bob, the problem is me, I don’t understand how Bob is motivated, and so I’ve got to understand how he’s motivated, and then I know “okay; Bob is motivated to avoid pain, he wants to mitigate risk, he doesn’t care about new stuff, he just wants to avoid trouble coming”.

So how am I going to talk to him? How can I unleash that motivation? I’m going to go to Bob and I’m going to say “Bob we want to bring on this new project, but I want to go through all of the things that could go wrong, if we don’t do it, here’re problems X, Y and Z; if we don’t implement this change, this project on X, Y & Z could happen, we could lose market share, we could lose some of our clients”

Now all of a sudden it’s kind of like that movie inside out where the people are talking in the brain, all of a sudden you’ve got the bells going off in his brain because he hears threat, he hears pain, now all of a sudden “what do you mean we could lose market share? what do you mean that my project could be in jeopardy?” Now we’ve tapped into his motivation, and we’ve unleashed it, so why do we care as organizations?

Key differences between the top performers and our low performers

We did a study with sales reps, we wanted to look at what are the key differences between the top performers and our low performers, so we assess both the top performers and the low performers, and we assess them on 35 different traits, and we wanted to know out of those 35 different traits, are there any consistencies that we see with the top performers versus the low performers?

There were multiple key traits, but there was one that was just incredibly significant; that was motivation, and it was the motivation factor on the pain side.

So we often think sales reps they’re so good at ambition, they’re driven by ambition, but on the pain side we have awareness and we have agility, and these top sales reps, yes they had high ambition, but on the pain side they were just incredibly effective at resolving pain, and about problem-solving, it gives them that confident mindset; and what they think is “you can throw any kind of problem at me and no problem I’ll solve it”.

So they know that even if they don’t know the answers they can go find it, so those top sales reps had extremely high scores and that agility factor; so this is really critical for organizations to know; because it’s not what we’ve been taught when we think about how to motivate employees.

Why do we need to care about motivation?

So why do we need to care about motivation

1- Hiring for motivational fit:

As organizations we need to hire for motivational fit, just because somebody can do the job doesn’t mean that they will do the job, on a consistent basis and a resume only shows us what they can do not what they will do.

So we need to be looking at diving in deeper and figuring out what is the job calls for? And is this the right motivational fit?

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2- Without understanding the motivation we hire according to our emotions

Researchers have studied how we as human beings select candidates for hire in an interview? And they wanted to look at what parts of the brain our decisions about hiring made? What was interesting, they found that:

  • we make decisions whether or not to hire somebody in the first three to five minutes of the interview, the first three to five minutes of the interview we make a decision about whether or not we want to hire that person not only that the decision is made in the emotional.
  • If we use this as a crude representation of the brain the thumb represents the emotional centers of the brain, the decision is made in the emotional centers of the brain, and what is our brain asking in that first three to five minutes “will I want to get car and drive cross-country with this person?” if the answer is yes “all right, yeah that’s it, that’s a good fit” then we spend the rest of the interview trying to justify why we think that person is a good fit, so again we’re basing it on what we like; “that’s fine, maybe does that work”.
  • So let’s go to the research, what do you think the correlation is between if I like somebody in an interview and if they will be a top performer later? The correlation is zero, but that doesn’t mean that you should hate the people that you hire; but we often hire because somebody they communicate like us, they’re like us; but is that really what the job requires?

And when we did the study with the sales reps, I was curious, so I went back to the organizations and I said “hey can you pull the records on the interview?” I want to see the ratings you gave those candidates when you hired them, and I was just curious because I thought I wonder if the ratings were any differences between the top performers and the low performers;

Who do you think got the better ratings in their interviews? The answer is the low performers; we liked them more, and if you ask any of the top HR professionals in the country they will say “absolutely we never hire based on who we like, we’ve gotten burned by that so many times”

  • So number one we need to hire for motivational fit, we need to be testing for motivation and we need to be digging in deeper on the interview to determine if they are the right motivational fit for the job.
  • Second, we need to understand our employees, we need to understand how they’re motivated, and we need to communicate with them in their motivational style, we also need to be bringing them in on projects that match that motivational style, I’m not going to put somebody who’s very prevention-focused and mitigates risk on a project that’s going out; so we need to start understanding our employees and matching them to the projects
  • And third, we need to invest in our people, we often as organizations will invest in our equipment, our technology, and our processes; we will lean and Six Sigma our organization to death, but we don’t apply those same principles of continuous improvement to our people, the high-performance cultures in the future are going to be those that invest in their people.

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