Unleashing Intrinsic Motivation in the Workplace
Updated: Jul 18
When employees arrive at work, they do so with a desire to excel, make a meaningful contribution, and return home knowing they've achieved something worthwhile—all while staying safe. However, it's all too common for individuals to lose their motivation once they step into the workplace. The key to building a high-performing organization lies not in incentivizing or coercing desired behaviors but in identifying and removing the barriers that hinder motivation.
Addressing the Reporting Dilemma
Let's take the example of incentivizing the reporting of near misses—an unfortunate practice that often leads to fictionalized accounts. Instead of focusing on increasing the number of reports, it's crucial to understand why near misses go unreported in the first place. By addressing the underlying issues, organizations can foster a reporting culture based on genuine concerns rather than extrinsic rewards.
Understanding Motivation Dynamics
Motivation is an internal force—a high level of energy focused on productive action. One individual cannot directly motivate another. However, leaders can create an environment that either fosters or hampers motivation. Genuine motivation arises from an individual's inner desire to achieve something meaningful. Conversely, demotivation occurs when that desire is lost, leading to compliance rather than genuine commitment. Teams rarely thrive under such circumstances.
Key Tactics for Building Motivation
Successful organizations that excel in operational performance employ three fundamental tactics for cultivating motivation:
Removing Demotivators: Identify the factors that erode employees' intrinsic motivation and desire to perform at their best. Dean Spitzer, author of "SuperMotivation: A Blueprint for Energizing Your Organization from Top to Bottom," highlights demotivators such as unclear expectations, constant change, lack of transparency, hypocrisy, dishonesty, unfairness, unproductive meetings, internal competition, inadequate follow-up, excessive control, disregard for input, and unnecessary rules.
Adding Motivators: Enhance the work environment by incorporating elements that boost motivation and encourage discretionary effort. Examples include giving employees a voice in decision-making, fostering a sense of ownership, promoting teamwork, providing opportunities for skill development and improvement, celebrating achievements, and offering a variety in tasks.
Rewarding: Recognizing exceptional performance is important, particularly when it aligns with predefined goals and is delivered in a timely manner. However, it's crucial to avoid a blanket approach of praising in public and criticizing in private, as this may not always be effective. Instead, encourage employees to do the right thing for the right reasons and acknowledge their efforts accordingly. Avoid relying on incentives, as they may inadvertently shift focus towards working for rewards rather than a genuine desire to contribute.
Building a "Want To" Culture
To foster a workforce driven by intrinsic motivation, it's essential to have a comprehensive motivational strategy that begins with leaders understanding their employees—who they are as individuals, what motivates them, and what demotivates them. Leaders should strive not to hinder the inherent motivation that already exists within most individuals. As Lou Holtz, the renowned American football coach, once said, "It's not my job to motivate players. They bring extraordinary motivation to our program. It's my job not to demotivate them."
By removing demotivators, adding motivators, and rewarding performance in a meaningful way, organizations can unlock the power of intrinsic motivation and create an environment where employees genuinely want to give their best. This approach fosters a culture of engagement, commitment, and continuous improvement, leading to long-term success and safety excellence.