What really drives employee performance? And how can managers tap into these motivators?

Performance reviews are typically conducted at this time of year, so it’s a good time to dive into research on the psychology of motivation. Psychological and organisational behavioural research indicates that there are eight primary human motivators. And if you understand these eight motivators, you can use them to encourage your teams to work more effectively.

1. Autonomy

As the name suggests, this is about having the freedom to control our own work, and the freedom to make our own decisions. This is a really powerful motivator – and easy to imagine. How would you feel if you didn’t have that freedom? 

The research suggests that employee performance and job satisfaction improve when they feel they have control over their tasks and workflows. That doesn’t mean there are no rules in the organisation, or that employees are completely self-directed. Instead, it involves strategies like having employees draft their own goals for the new financial year and then discussing them with their manager.

The research suggests that employee performance and job satisfaction improve when they feel they have control over their tasks and workflows.’

As a manager, you can communicate your desired outcome to the employees and let them decide how to achieve it. For example, when you give them a task or a new project, you can say, ‘This is the outcome I need, but you can work out how you’re going to get there.’ That’s one simple way you can enable some autonomy in everyone’s roles.

2. Mastery

This is about improving our skills in the tasks that we really care about, which can lead to higher levels of engagement. As a manager, you can provide opportunities for professional development and skill development, which can really motivate employees to do better.

How do you do this? One way is strengths-based working. This powerful tool helps employees understand their strengths and how to develop them. At Amplify HR, we use the strengths profile internally, with clients, and run workshops in how to use it. 

The research strongly suggests that there’s not much benefit in trying to develop our ‘weaknesses’ unless, of course, they are holding us back in our role and impacting negatively on our team or on others. 

Most of the time, we’re much better off developing the skills that give us more satisfaction and engagement. This also helps us with career conversations because we can start thinking about the skills that we need to develop. We can look at the aspects of an employee’s strengths that are undeveloped right now that they would like to develop to achieve their career goals.

We can look at the aspects of an employee’s strengths that are undeveloped right now that they would like to develop to achieve their career goals.’

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3. Purpose

If we understand the purpose behind our work and its impact we’re more likely to be motivated to contribute more effectively. As a manager, aligning the company’s purpose with an employee’s role will really help. 

For this, you must have a purpose statement for the business. I’m talking about a one-liner, not necessarily a vision or a mission, just one line about why your business exists. For example, the purpose Amplify HR, is to create workplaces that engage and inspire. 

Once you have your purpose, you can also outline the values that underpin it. The important thing is that you speak about your purpose and your values relentlessly. Use them in: 

  • recruitment
  • performance management
  • Internal communications
  • when recognising your team members.

By actively repeating and using your values, everybody comes to understand their role and how it fits within the business’s purpose and values. 


4. Recognition

One of the surest ways to boost your team’s motivation is to acknowledge their efforts and achievements. Anything that says, ‘hey you’ve done a great job because XYZ’. 

This should be regular, but it should also be genuine. It could be through

  • formal recognition
  • Informal acknowledgement
  • a mixture of both

You want to reinforce the behaviours that you’re looking for by recognising the people who demonstrate your values, as well as high performance. 

The way to do this as a manager is to 

  • establish a recognition program in the business
  • keep an eye out to ‘catch people doing something right’
  • have one-on-ones with your team members and ensure that an item on the agenda is for you to recognise good work. 

5. Rewards

Rewards can include intrinsic rewards, like personal growth, and extrinsic rewards, like bonuses – both can motivate people in different ways. It’s important to remember that we’re all motivated differently by intrinsic and extrinsic rewards. 

As a manager, examine your benefits and remuneration structures. What are your rewards? Are you selling them so people understand they are rewards? Quite often organisations have rewards in place but they don’t sell this through to their teams so it just becomes part of working here instead of a reward. 


6. Relationships 

Having strong, positive relationships with colleagues and managers enhances motivation. It doesn’t matter which organisation or industry, when you ask people, ‘What do you love about working here?’ The top answer I get is: ‘It’s the people I work with.’ 

Creating a supportive and collaborative work environment will motivate people to take initiative and perform well. Make sure that you have social activities, get-togethers, and team meetings. Think about the physical office space and how that helps people come together and form relationships.

Creating a supportive and collaborative work environment will motivate people to take initiative and perform well.’

7. Progress

Seeing progress towards a goal is quite motivating. As managers, we can help by setting clear, achievable milestones. And then celebrating the achievement of those milestones along the way. Think about ways you can improve how you track progress:

  • How do you set goals?
  • When do you review goals? Hopefully it’s not just once a year.
  • What dashboards can you put in place?
  • What scorecards can you use?


8. Security

Job security and stable work conditions can also motivate people because it can reduce anxiety and enable them to just focus on performance. 

Managing job security can be challenging for managers, but there are strategies that we can use. For example, focusing on managing performance rather than resorting to redundancies. 

When redundancies are made due to performance management issues rather than actual role problems, it creates anxiety and unease in the rest of the organisation. Consider the signals you’re sending and how they contribute to job security. If you’re transparent about your purpose, values, and goals in your business, it will instil a greater sense of job security in people. 

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