Three Key Ways to Motivate Your Employees

By Timothy I. Thomas

Tim Thomas

Timothy I. Thomas is the President and CEO of Makarios Consulting, LLC, a leadership development and business consulting firm. Makarios Consulting specializes in interactive training and one-on-one coaching in progressive organizations in order to equip and empower their leaders to maximize their own leadership skills and inspire others to accomplish extraordinary business results. Timothy Thomas is the author of Creating All-Star Performers: The Power of Effective Feedback, now available for immediate download at

As an executive or manager, you’re probably feeling increasing pressure to do more and more with fewer and fewer resources (e.g., time, people, and/or money). Effectively motivating your employees enables you to maximize your resources on the people side of the equation.

The good news is that there are numerous theories about motivation and a great deal of research has been done on the subject. The bad news is that there is no single motivation theory that works all the time. You need to understand each unique situation and the people involved in it in order to choose an appropriate motivational technique. Here are three popular techniques to consider:

1. Motivate by Needs

The idea here is that people are motivated by unsatisfied needs. So,
linking the achievement of an organizational goal to the satisfaction of employees’ needs should inspire them to work more diligently toward it.

The challenge in this is that needs vary greatly from one person to the next and vary over time for any given individual. In addition, satisfied needs tend to lose their motivational potential. For example, suppose an organization is trying to reach a sales goal by posting a plaque on the wall with the names of all employees who reach a certain level of sales. This might appeal to employees who have an unmet need for recognition or prestige, but it may not appeal to employees who are seeking job security. And it would also be expected that once the prestige-seeking people get their name on the plaque, they may no longer be motivated to maintain or surpass that level of sales. Using this sort of motivation technique requires individual customization of benefits and rewards.

2. Motivate through Job Design

This type of motivation is based on the premise that the task itself can be motivating, based on the degree of challenge involved. Challenging tasks are viewed as more motivating than boring and monotonous ones, so ensuring a continued challenge through variety, autonomy or decision-making authority can enhance motivation. This sometimes involves expanding the scope of a job to include different types of tasks (e.g., cross-training an employee to fill multiple roles) or enriching a job by providing the opportunity for achievement, recognition, responsibility, or advancement (e.g., a special project to develop the leadership skills needed for a promotion).

3. Motivate from the Inside Out

Intrinsic motivation is based on internal, rather than external factors. Like needs, intrinsic motivation varies from individual to individual. For example:

  • Some people are driven by a sense of meaningfulness. They are motivated when they feel they are pursuing a valuable goal that is worthy of their time and energy.
  • Others value a sense of choice and work harder when they have the freedom to use their own judgment in determining how to perform their jobs. To tap into their motivational core, tell them the desired outcome but let them figure out how to achieve it.
  • A sense of competence is important to some employees: they want to feel skillful and produce high-quality work.
  • And to some, a sense of progress is essential. They must feel like they’re accomplishing something and moving forward in achieving their purpose.

Employees may also be motivated by some combination of these factors. The key here is that intrinsic motivation comes from within the individual: there is nothing you need to do to create it. But you must spend time and effort in identifying an individual’s intrinsic motivation. Then, help them find a way to align that intrinsic drive with the company’s goals and get out of their way!

© 2008 Timothy I. Thomas
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