Know Thine Employee

Managers often try to motivate employees as a group rather than individually. It is extremely important for you to take the time to really understand each employee on an individual basis.  This will ensure that you are aligning any extrinsic motivations like pay increases, bonuses and recognition with the intrinsic motivations of each employee.  When it comes to employee motivation there is no “one size fits all” solution that can be designed.

Your first task is to take the time to clearly understand what motivates each of your employees.  I would recommend first looking at the sixteen basic desires theory.  This theory was created by Steven Reiss after he studied over 6,000 people and helps show why people do what they do.  Once you’ve taken the time to understand which of these qualities motivates each of your employees you can align your extrinsic motivation plan with their needs.

I will use myself as an example in this scenario.  I am motivated by curiosity (the need to learn), order (the need for organized, stable, predictable environments) and a little by power (the need for influence of will).  Based on these key areas we can put together an annual goals document that outlines key projects I can work on that best utilize my intrinsic motivational needs.

After the goals are documented you should utilized your one-on-one sessions with your employee to not only discuss status on their projects, but how they “feel” about their work and how well these intrinsic needs are being satisfied by the work.  The key here is to make sure your employee’s intrinsic needs are ALWAYS being met. They will not be happy with their work if these needs are not met.

Throughout the year I would suggest that you look for extrinsic ways to reward the employees for accomplishing their goals.  Some will be motivated by public recognition while others will prefer private.  Going back to me as an example, you could reward me by sending me off to training (curiosity) or maybe by giving me the opportunity to lead a sub-team for a specific project (power).  Again, this goes back to knowing your employee!  If you haven’t taken the time to do this you will probably default to giving the person a pat on the back during a team meeting, but this might not matter a bit to them.

When year-end comes and you’re working to determine pay increases and bonuses you can continue down the same path as you did previously by looking for ways to frame the rewards in a way that directly relates to their intrinsic motivations.  If your employee is motivated by saving then remind them about how much this bonus will contribute to their retirement fund.