Employee motivation and engagement is a very hot topic in many organizations. Many companies regularly conduct internal employee engagement surveys throughout the year. Some managers dread receiving the survey results, while others thrive on them.

Gallup’s 2017 annual employee engagement survey shows that over 70% of American employees are disengaged. That is a frightening statistic! It speaks a lot about the leadership teams and cultures present within organizations!

In this article, we will look at employee motivation from many different angles. We will discuss what helps us create it and how we sometimes destroy it.

How we motivate people in organizations?

We try to motivate and engage people in a funny way in most organizations. Often, we try to motivate people using financial rewards. So we set a goal and then reward people if they reach it. If they do not reach it, then we do not give the reward.

What I have just described is partly the annual goal setting and review process of many companies. The problem is that in some companies, there is a big flaw in the system. At the end of the year, when they prepare employee reviews, they compare them to one another using a bell curve. This is a game where the end goal may not be to deliver on our promised rewards to everyone. Pushed to the extreme, we demotivate valuable employees by not recognizing their achievements. We also demotivate them by focusing on negative aspects to justify their evaluation.

The worst of this is when we take things out of context to support these performance reviews.

These false conversations kill the motivation and engagement of even the best employees. The irony is that this is happening for completely wrong reasons. Isn’t it funny that we seek to motivate using a flawed paradigm that can demotivate people?

Rewarding behaviour, and not only results

The system of rewarding employees for meeting goals does not always take into account how people reach them. For example, imagine rewarding your best salesperson for closing record sales this year. You would want to reward this person to keep them motivated, right?

Now imagine this person is the best because they stole clients from team members. Would you still reward this person? What message would you be giving to the rest of your team? What would it say about what you value as an organization?

Focus on giving small rewards for the behaviours you want to see in your organization. This will motivate people to keep doing these things. Having more and more people with the right habits will create the results you want.

Rewarding the whole and not the parts

When building high-performing teams, how can we motivate people to work better together? Part of the solution lies once again in what you reward and what you believe in.

Many performance review systems focus on having individual goals. This, in turn, creates measurements around the performance of individuals. The challenge becomes to create goals and objectives people need each other to reach.

In the Tribal Leadership realm, this is the ultimate Stage 4 tribe. We have a common goal, objective or vision that motivates and drives us. One that is bigger than what any of us can achieve alone.

The corollary to this is creating competing goals. Imagine two different teams with goals that compete with one another. If one team reaches its goals, the other will fail. How could you address this?

Motivation through opportunities

There is another way of motivating people that does not rely only on money. What if as managers, we took the time to listen more to our employees? What if we took the time to understand what motivates them and what they need at work? To create this discussion, you can use the Moving Motivators game from our Management 3.0 course.

What if we were able to take some of these things we learn and turn them into opportunities for them instead? People need to be in the right chair doing the right things to light up and bring their best work to the table.

For many people, work is not just about money. It is about the opportunity to do something meaningful. It is also about being able to work somewhere they feel respected and where they feel they can grow.

Motivation through your leadership

What kind of leader are you? How do you inspire the people around you? How much personal awareness do you have about your impact on your people? If you did a reputation audit, what would people have to say about your leadership style?

I read a quote once that said that people do not leave companies, they leave bad managers. Another fun quote along these lines is that leaders have the teams they deserve.

When you look at your teams, what are some of their strengths and weaknesses? How do you contribute to each of them? Take a piece of paper and make a list with two columns. In the first column, write down the behaviours you encourage. In the second one, write down the various behaviours you tolerate.

Take a moment and look at your list. Reflect on how many things you currently encourage or tolerate. How long is each list? What is the impact of the things you are encouraging and tolerating? How are the things on this list impacting the motivation of your employees?

To see your part in the big picture, you can do this exercise at the end of each day. If you try this, you can reflect on why you are tolerating what you are tolerating. You can also reflect on what you would want to do differently in the future about these things.

Motivation through metrics

Motivation can be a very fickle thing. What motivates someone today may not motivate them as much tomorrow. The important thing though is to start bringing some attention and focus on it.

Another easy way to keep track of employee motivation is to use a metric tool like the Happiness Index. This is a simple tool from our Management 3.0 course to help determine employees’ level of happiness and make it visible. This way, you can begin focusing on improving it more and more.

To try it out yourself, imagine making a chart (see Figure 1) over a week or a month that is rated from 1 to 5 each day, and where 1 means you are not happy at all, and 5 means you are very happy. Each morning, mark your level of happiness on your graph.

Happiness index

What patterns can you see in your own level of happiness at work? How can this be a useful tool for your teams?


Many different elements can impact employee motivation. As leaders, there are many things we can do to help the people we lead.

A good first step is to talk with the people around you and get an understanding of where their motivation lies. From there, you can then try to see how to best support the people around you. What are the new opportunities that you can create for people?

Increasing employee motivation definitely also begins by being a more mindful leader. How aware are you of the impact you have on your employees?

Finally, you can increase motivation by measuring it regularly in a subjective way. The idea is that making a measure visible encourages you to focus on it. How will you work on increasing your employees’ motivation in the next few weeks?

steffan surdek

Steffan is an Agile coach.

Clients are at the center of his approach and he shares his expertise with them. He is dedicated to their teams and their results. He works with them in order to find Agile solutions that answer their business needs.

Contact him to see how he can help you.

Previous post

The Project Manager is dead; long live the Project Manager!

Next post

The Culture of Software DevOps

No Comment

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.