Motivation Works Tools and Resources

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Only when you understand what motivates people will you truly succeed in business...

How motivated is your team – to do their work, to perform well, to work together? How do you ensure that they have the motivation to make your business as successful as possible?

A well-motivated team is more engaged in the work they do, more committed to their daily tasks and more enthusiastic about those tasks, thus driving up the standards and success of your business.

You may think this is easy to create and maintain, but recent research points to a disengaged workforce, where 1 (and according to some research, 2) in 5 people are looking to change employers in 2022. It might not be as easy as you think.

So, ask yourself this one question:


How would you set about helping your people to be more productive, to work smarter, not just harder, in their available time?

STOP relying on carrot and stick (extrinsic) ways of motivating and managing your people

START building self-motivating (intrinsic) processes into your business

The one ‘BREAKTHROUGH QUESTION’ you must ask to help yourself…


How would you set about helping your people to be more productive, to work smarter, not just harder, in their available time?

If you resort to incentives (bribery!) or threats around future career prospects, job security or loss of status, then you’re using extrinsic motivation to achieve what you want.

This carrot and stick approach may work short term but could backfire in the longer term and undermine the stability, the commitment and the drive of your team, all things you need to help your business succeed.

“Gallup’s four decades of research on employee engagement is instructive: at least 70 percent of variance in employee engagement is caused by the manager... Managers are the most powerful lever within an organization to increase engagement and performance. Equipped with the skills to engage more hearts and minds via intrinsic motivators, a manager becomes the central touchpoint for an organization to fully engage and leverage their talent.”

Carrots and sticks often don’t work – and they can also backfire

Psychologists Harry Harlow and Edward Deci performed an experiment using adult volunteers and a range of puzzles:

  • Day 1 - No reward is offered for completing the puzzles. Many people play with the puzzles, even though there are other attractive and easier diversions available – they are ‘intrinsically’ driven to solve the puzzles.
  • Day 2 - Cash rewards are offered to participants. More of the participants play with the puzzles, with a heightened degree of intensity.
  • Day 3 - Due to a lack of money, no cash rewards are offered for solving the puzzles. It is noticeable that most participants shun the puzzles entirely – ‘intrinsic’ motivation has evaporated.
  • Conclusion: While cash reward boosts motivation in the short term, it actually does long-term damage to people’s level of intrinsic motivation. 

By offering a reward, you suggest the task is less desirable – if the task were desirable, you wouldn’t need a financial carrot.

Once on this ‘carrot’ path, it’s difficult to leave. Offer too small a reward and the agent won’t comply. But offer a reward enticing enough to get the agent to act the first time, and the precedent means you’re “...doomed to give it again in the second.”

You may even have to increase the payment to continue compliance!

For example, if you pay your daughter to take out the rubbish once, you’ve pretty much guaranteed she’ll never do it again for free (so disconnect pocket money from chores).

Carrot and stick motivators can harm your business!

Harry Harlow and Edward Deci’s substantial research points to 7 deadly flaws of the “Carrot and Stick” approach.  Carrot and stick motivators can:

  1. 1
    extinguish intrinsic motivation
  2. 2
    diminish performance
  3. 3
    crush creative thinking and initiative
  4. 4
    crowd out good behaviour
  5. 5
    encourage cheating, shortcuts and unethical behaviour
  6. 6
    become addictive
  7. 7
    foster short-term, short-sighted thinking

It is wise to avoid the slippery slope of using carrot and stick (extrinsic) motivators. Instead, it pays to establish knowledge, skills, tools and processes that build the deep-seated, fundamental and natural desire to enjoy and do worthwhile work (intrinsic motivators).

Harlow and Deci’s research is a deep and long-standing investigation into Self Determination Theory. Click the link or Google the term to open a vast array of insight and knowledge.

There are special (and proven) circumstances when carrot and stick motivators do work.

The carrot and stick approach isn’t always bad. It can be effective for rule-based, routine tasks because there’s little intrinsic motivation to undermine and not much creativity to crush.

For example, asking team members to stuff posters into envelopes to meet a marketing deadline is a routine that offers little room for creativity.  In this instance, offering a reward may be the most effective way to recruit individuals to the cause. If this is the case, managers should:

  • offer a rationale for why the task is necessary
  • acknowledge the task is boring
  • allow people to complete the task in their own way (autonomy)

'If-then' versus 'now-that'

“It really doesn’t seem fair that the people who help the business succeed through their hard work, creativity and commitment shouldn’t be rewarded for their efforts.”

If you are concerned about the above statement then you’re right, it isn’t fair. But this is where both language and context matters. The way you acknowledge or, rather, thank your team is important.

The research clearly shows that for non-routine, conceptual or creative tasks, rewards are extremely perilous; particularly those of the ‘if-then’ variety.

Telling your team that if they make a great and inventive marketing campaign or resolve a thorny business problem, then you will take them out to lunch and give them a generous bonus, you risk damaging the long-term motivation of your team. You risk undermining the future success of your business.

You are telling your team to expect an external reward for their good work. Your people become more concerned with the reward than they are with the inherent satisfaction of doing a worthwhile job. And the speed and quality of their work reduces!

Set up the task focusing on the 3 drivers – autonomy, mastery and purpose – so that they appreciate the value, importance and meaning of the work, and encourage them to do it their way (with your help and guidance).

When they succeed, you have avoided using ‘if-then’ carrot and stick drivers. But you can now use ‘now-that’ to thank them.

A ‘now-that’ reward is a NON-CONTINGENT reward given AFTER a task is complete. A ‘now-that’ reward is much better for creative, right-brain work. It is a better way to recognise and reward your team while carefully retaining and respecting their intrinsic motivation and fairly recognising their contribution to the business.

“Financial incentives are simple; everyone understands them and they’re easy to implement. And everyone wants more money. Why would we choose a more difficult way to build a motivated team?”

Simple versus complex is a strong argument. Easy versus difficult also makes sense. But as so much evidence points out that simple, extrinsic, carrot and stick ways of motivating people do not work in the long run, you’ll undermine rather than build the success of your business. Here are 5 important insights from Daniel Pink’s book about intrinsic motivation to help you choose the self-motivation path for your business:

  • Intrinsic (self) motivation almost always outperforms extrinsic (carrot and stick) drivers in the long run
  • Intrinsic (self) motivation does not mean that money and rewards do not matter (these must be seen to be fair)
  • Intrinsic (self) motivation is a renewable resource (like the sun and tides) whereas carrots cost more and more and have toxic consequences (like coal and oil)
  • Intrinsic (self) motivators promote better physical, mental and emotional well-being (unlike carrots, gambling and cocaine!)
  • Intrinsic (self) motivation is a learnable skill and process (it’s not in our genes)

Everyone struggles with motivation

Parents, teachers, coaches and managers everywhere struggle with how to motivate those they work with.

We’re all struggling to find energy, mobilise effort and persist at the tasks of life and work.

It is true that people are often moved by external factors such as reward systems, grades, evaluations or the opinions they fear others might have of them. HOWEVER, as Professor Frey neatly points out, people are more frequently motivated from within, by interests, curiosity, care or abiding values.

These intrinsic motivations are not necessarily externally rewarded or supported, but they nonetheless can sustain passion, creativity and effort.

The interplay between the extrinsic forces acting on people and the intrinsic motives and needs inherent in human nature is the territory we as leaders need to better understand – this is the field of Self-Determination Theory.

13 questions to signpost a lack of engagement and motivation

The website outlines a way to help determine autonomy, relatedness (team) and competence (mastery) using the following 13 questions. These questions will give you a strong insight into how well you are appealing to the intrinsic motivations of your team.

  1. 1
    Has their productivity dropped off?
  2. 2
    Have they begun to act less like a team player?
  3. 3
    Are they doing the minimum amount of work more frequently?
  4. 4
    Are they less interested in pleasing their manager?
  5. 5
    Are they less willing to commit to long-term timelines?
  6. 6
    Are they exhibiting an adverse change in attitude?
  7. 7
    Have they shown less effort and do they appear less motivated?
  8. 8
    Do they seem less focused on their work?
  9. 9
    Have they expressed more dissatisfaction in their role?
  10. 10
    Have they expressed more dissatisfaction with their supervisor or manager?
  11. 11
    Do they leave work early more frequently?
  12. 12
    Do they appear to have lost enthusiasm?
  13. 13
    Are they less interested in working with customers?

Answering yes suggests a conversation is needed to understand if the manager can offer additional support or modify his or her role.

Motivate and retain highly motivated people

One of the Big 4 accounting firms, PwC, has investigated in depth the hopes and fears of workers, and they share some profound insights in their 2022 report.

According to PwC, when compared to people who are highly unlikely to look for another job, people who are likely to leave are:

  • less likely to find their job fulfilling
  • less likely to feel they can be their true self at work
  • less likely to feel fairly rewarded financially
  • less likely to feel their team cares about them
  • less likely to feel that their manager listens to them

The underlying motivators at play signpost something that is often lost in the management of people. Intrinsic motivators are as powerful (possibly more powerful) than extrinsic motivators.

The Motivation and Drive mind map

Please see below a brilliant illustration of a mind map that reveals the surprising truth about what motivates us. This would be great to use in a team talk or presentation or to use as a starting point for a conversation with your team.

Articles, the books and other resources

This article from discusses intrinsic motivation in the workplace, what it means for performance and provides techniques and strategies to help nurture it.

Intrinsically motivated people find what they are doing to be inherently interesting and appealing. In contrast, extrinsically motivated individuals are driven by external consequences, such as financial rewards and avoiding getting into trouble or being criticized.” (Ryan & Deci, 2017)

“...intrinsic motivation – and autonomy in particular – predicts performance at work, the ability to handle change, and even our adoption of the latest technology.” (Moran, Diefendorff, Kim, & Liu, 2012; Mitchell, Gagné, Beaudry, & Dyer, 2012).

“Intrinsic rewards produce nonquantifiable personal satisfaction, such as a sense of accomplishment, personal control over one’s work, and a feeling that efforts are appreciated.” (Harvard Business Review, 2019)

According to Mercer research (11,000+ employees surveyed), 2 of 5 employees are likely to look for a new employer in 2022! In this report, Mercer shares insights into what you must do to retain and attract enthusiastic team members. When you do, here are the results you can expect:

Energised employees are:

  • 2x more positive on work-life balance
  • 3x more supportive of leadership
  • 3x less likely to leave their company

Find out more here.

This article is an interview with Daniel Pink, ten years after he wrote the book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. He chats about purpose, motivation, employee engagement and the future of remote working. Pink says:

“We shouldn’t underestimate how difficult it is to create a work environment that hinges on autonomy or self-direction, and how easy it is to create an environment focused on extrinsic rewards. Again, paying obscene performance bonuses is really easy. We know how to do that.”

Click the image below the read the article.

Since the pandemic, the way we work has dramatically changed. Hybrid work environments are now accepted and even encouraged, but does hybrid (work from home) work when it comes to increasing productivity?

This article points to research that shows that you can get 6 days’ value from 5 days of work time.

When it comes to building the skills to make best use of this potential increase in productivity, this is what’s required: “Manager development programs must equip managers with the ability to leverage intrinsic motivation to achieve results.”

Click the image below to read the article.

Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us

Daniel H. Pink

Most people believe that the best way to motivate is with monetary or other rewards – the carrot and stick approach. That’s a mistake, says Daniel H. Pink, author of Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. In this book, he asserts that the secret to high performance and satisfaction – at work, at school and at home – is the deeply human need to direct our own lives, to learn and create new things and to do better by ourselves and our world.

Drawing on four decades of scientific research on human motivation, Pink exposes the mismatch between what science knows and what business does – and how that affects every aspect of life. He examines the three elements of true motivation – autonomy, mastery and purpose – and offers smart and surprising techniques for putting these into action in a unique book that will change how we think and transform how we live.

Gung Ho! - How To Motivate People In Any Organisation

Ken Blanchard and Sheldon Bowles

This book, from the authors Ken Blanchard and Sheldon Bowles, sets out an invaluable new strategy for creating enthusiastic employees.

Drawing on over 20 years’ experience of working with hundreds of corporations across the US – including AmericaOnline, Eastman Kodak, General Motors, Hershey’s and Microsoft – Blanchard reveals a sure-fire strategy for boosting employee enthusiasm, productivity and performance.

Daniel H. Pink, author and speaker, now writes a newsletter and has produced several seasons of video shorts with science-based tools and tips to help you work smarter and live better. The videos are all approximately 2 minutes long and well worth a listen.

Click the links to access these videos and subscribe to his newsletter The Pinkcast.

If you want to know more about the science of motivation and how to maintain a motivated team, watch this video where Dan Pink examines the puzzle of motivation, starting with a fact which social scientists know but which most managers don't:  Traditional rewards aren't always as effective as we think.

Listen for illuminating stories and, maybe, a way forward.

Here is another one about how to drive up employee engagement and why we do what we do.In an easy-to-understand way, Daniel Pink provides some very interesting insights including a great story about an Israel Day Care Centre and the difference between How and Why when it comes to purpose.

Watch this video here.

If you want a different way to understand the key messages from Daniel Pink’s book Drive, then this video is brilliant – it is an aminated book summary that visually displays the key messages. It is 8 minutes long, but the core elements are very clear.

Watch this video here.


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