Intrinsic motivation is great for employee engagement, but it can be difficult to create a system that works. Extrinsic motivators, like bonuses and raises, are pretty standard, making them more expected and easier to build into your corporate structure, if you don’t already have them anyway. Trying to create intrinsic motivation can leave some people asking, how do I do that?
If we look at the five intrinsic motivators we can start to unpack how to create a system that works for you: Autonomy and Choice, Mastery and Competence, Purpose and Meaningfulness, Progress and Growth, and Social Interaction and Connection.
Autonomy and Choice
Allow mistakes – In order to feel engaged, employees need to know that their jobs are secure. They will be more motivated, productive, and creative when they feel they can try new things and make mistakes without catastrophic repercussions.
Display confidence – Part of a motivating manager’s job is to have confidence in their employees’ abilities to do their jobs without having to over-manage them. Communicate this by showing your team that they trust them to do their jobs well, on their own time and in their own way.
Share information – Create an atmosphere of autonomy by sharing information and allowing employees to access that information whenever they need it. This shows a level of trust and more control as an employee does not need to go to a manager whenever they need information.
Create goals – Employees will feel more autonomous when they work with a team and manager to create goals. Everyone will know what the goals are and know what they need to do to accomplish goals, without a lot of employer supervision.
Delegate responsibility – Having choice is an important aspect of motivation. Your team members should be able to make decisions about what they need to do and how they need to do it. There is a level of trust in letting employees make decisions about their responsibilities.
Mastery and Competence
Provide feedback – Employees will feel more competent if you provide feedback about their performance, especially about what is working. Try making this a habit rather than an isolated occurrence that may seem like an admonishment.
Recognize accomplishments – Employee recognition is an important aspect of motivation. The most effective recognition is one in the moment, but recognition, in general, can make employees feel like they are competent and appreciated. And while this might seem like something you’re already doing, you might not be doing it right. By some estimates, 89% of senior managers feel they their company is good at recognizing employees, while only 70% of the employees at those companies feel the same.
Create challenges – Make employees feel that they are doing well by giving them challenges that fit their abilities. Without any challenges, employees may begin to feel that their skills are not appreciated or used to their full potential. Tasks that are too difficult may make them feel less skilled and less motivated because they feel that cannot accomplish something that they are expected to accomplish. But just enough challenge can show them that they are a useful and valuable part of the team.
Support knowledge – Support mastery by encouraging employees to share their skills and knowledge with others and, in turn, learn from others. This type of social learning, paired with other types of development experiences such as trainings, e-learning programs and mentorship opportunities has a positive impact on employee motivation.
Have high standards – Employees will be more motivated if they feel that their manager thinks highly of them. Holding everyone to a high, yet achievable standard, without creating comparisons, is a good way to show employees that you expect them to do their best and believe that they can achieve great things through their competence.
Purpose and Meaningfulness
Create authenticity – When given the change, you should be open and authentic with employees. Encourage moments of real connection using empathy and emotional intelligence. The greater employees’ feelings of authenticity are, the greater their job satisfaction, engagement, and self-reported performance.
Make it relevant – Give employees tasks that are relevant to the company’s mission and vision, as well as tasks that align with the their own values. If employees feel that what they do is important to the job, as well as to a greater purpose, they will be more motivated to be productive.
Care about the work – Encourage them to care about the work, by showing that you care about the them, the work, and how the work impacts the world outside the company. Tapping into what makes employees passionate about life and work can energize their motivation and productivity.
Visualize the goal – When working on a project, it can be easy to get lost in the details. Include employees in creating and reviewing the goals and mission of the organization if you have the chance.
Share the big picture – Sometimes employees, depending on their jobs, have to do tasks that are more tedious or routine. These tasks, in isolation, can become demotivating unless a manager helps employees connect the seemingly isolated tasks to the big picture. If employees can see that they are doing something that is producing a final product and are able to see the results of their work, they will be more motivated.
Progress and Growth
Mark the milestones – Along the way, there should be identifiable milestones that both managers and employees can track. No matter what the business of job is, you needs to break things down into steps so that employees feel they are making progress. If the work is just an endless stream of tasks, without any sign of growth or progress employees may be less motivated to work to their full potential.
Interact with customers – To tap into what the business is doing for the world, it can be very motivating to have some kind of interaction with consumers. Employees should be able to see how consumers feel about the products or services they help create. These interactions can be in the form of testimonials or live conversations and meetings.
Measure success – Goals need to be measurable. No matter what the mission of the organization is, leaders need to create measurable goals so that employees can see if they are making progress. Employees want to know when and how they are showing progress and growth.
Social Interaction and Connection
Encourage collaboration – Increase motivation by increasing moments of collaboration and teamwork. Instead of having employees work in isolation, have them work together to accomplish a task.
Celebrate success – When your team achieves certain goals, commemorate those achievements by celebrating them. Success should be a celebration that everyone can participate in and one that recognizes the team as well as individual efforts.
Create a team – In order to create connection and social interaction, give employees the opportunity to work together and build a team atmosphere. Sometimes people may work together, but they do not have a team approach. Give them the opportunity to get to know each other on different levels. This can be accomplished through team activities or meals unrelated to work tasks.
Make it fun – While creating comparisons between employees can be damaging, some fun and friendly competition can be a good way to motivate employees to do their best.
Intrinsic motivation is a valuable, yet underutilized, aspect of employee engagement and productivity. Taking ideas from each of the intrinsic motivators, you can create a system of motivation that works for you and your team.
Remember to personalize each initiative to the team or department. What will motivate employees will vary depending on where they are in the company. For instance, an IT person might be greatly motivated when working on cutting-edge technology. By contrast, sales staff might view a financial reward as a measurement of how effective they’ve been.
About the author:
Ilie Ghiciuc Teamfluent CEO
I’ve been an entrepreneur for the past 10+ years building great software companies together with fantastic teams. I believe that a culture of learning can make organizations thrive and become more competitive, that’s why I founded Teamfluent.