Motivate without Over-Managing

  • Average reading time: Approximately 4 minutes

Many business leaders have lost sight of what motivates people at work. In fact, some companies have not updated their incentive practices in years, which means they are probably struggling to create and sustain high-performing teams.

Companies continue to ignore the obvious: Offering incentives and rewards is less effective than tapping into truly meaningful intrinsic motivation. Leaders continue to operate on old assumptions about motivation despite a wealth of well-documented scientific evidence.

20th century workplace
20th century workplace

When working with executive teams, I hear and feel their frustration with disconnected and disengaged workers. At the same time, these executives spend time and money on revamping compensation plans and initiating shiny new rewards programs. I believe they would reap better returns on investing time in discovery conversations that tap into people’s internal drives.

I have said (and written about) it many times before, and I speak from years of experience and observation: the old “carrot-and-stick” mentality actually inhibits employees from seeking creative solutions. Research has recently unlocked the reasoning to support the wisdom. The carrot-and-stick mentality enables the focus on attaining rewards instead of solving problems. Review the most notorious business failures – Enron, for example – and you’ll find that company leaders focused on rewarding short-term results at the expense of sustaining success.

Pause and Reflect

  1. How might your organization be sabotaging sustainable success by rewarding short-term results?
  2. Are you pushing for higher sales and higher productivity while sacrificing a positive customer and employee experience?
  3. Are your processes and communications focused on transactions or relationships?

Many of my clients are examining their practices to address mixed messages and misaligned intentions that sabotage their ability to build capacity and capability for a great place to work and great profits.

Effective Motivation: Satisfying People’s Psychological Needs

Effective motivation requires you to offer opportunities that satisfy three basic human needs:

  1. Autonomy
  2. Relatedness
  3. Competence

This approach is far from new. Social scientists have grasped what motivates people for more than 60 years. Alas, managers continue to use the carrot-and-stick model with incentive programs. Regardless of gender, race, culture, or generation, the reality is clear: this model breeds superficial and short-term motivation – expensive, ineffective, and lacking in satisfying psychological needs.

I’m reading Why Motivating People Doesn’t Work…and What Does: The New Science of Leading, Energizing, and Engaging by consultant Susan Fowler. The book serves as a good reminder that managers must periodically review their motivational techniques to recapture their leadership mojo (charm and power).

If your employees are inert, disengaged and bored, something has flipped their default setting. Our basic nature is to be curious and self-directed, to seek out and explore solutions to problems. With a few extraordinary exceptions, the 19th and 20th century workplace was a great place to dampen our basic nature - at great expense to people, organizations, and communities. Now, into the first 15 years of the 21st century, we still have far to go in moving from insight to practice and undo centuries of conditioning.

Moving Out of the Comfort Zone

Many leaders will resist giving up their carrots. Many workers will be uncomfortable imagining a world without incentives. We are conditioned to like the carrots and avoid the sticks.

However, leaders who recognize the value of, and who can implement, intrinsic motivation can expect a whole new workplace — and an entirely new definition of work. In my opinion, we do not need better management as much as a renaissance of self-direction and critical-thinking that will only flourish with autonomy.

The bigger, unanswered question is whether or not today’s leaders are ready to rise to the new challenges autonomy will require.

What do you think about this?

  1. What are your best practices for effective motivation?
  2. Are YOUR psychological needs being satisfied at work?
  3. What do you think are the obstacles to harnessing core psychological needs for improving performance?

I would love to hear from you. Tell me about the challenges and successes you have with building capacity and capability for a great workplace and great profits. Your comments are welcome.

You can contact me at, at 905-858-7566, on LinkedIn, on Maestro’s Facebook page, or follow me on Twitter.

Books and Audiobooks:

Why Motivating People Doesn’t Work…and What Does: The New Science of Leading, Energizing, and Engaging, Susan Fowler.

Also available in Kindle Edition, on iTunes (audiobook), and in iBooks

Link to Motivation Series Blogs:

What is Flow and How is Flow Created? - We are Most Productive and Satisfied in the State of Flow
Boost Employee Commitment with Motivational Outlook Conversations
Motivate without Micromanaging - Eliminate Mindless Compliance and Conformity
Puzzles Motivate Monkeys. What Motivates People? – The Power of Self-Determination 
What We can Learn about Motivation from Monkeys – The Psychological Need for Competence
The Motivational Trifecta - Goldilocks Management: Just the Right Amount
Motivate without Over-Managing - This isn’t the 20th Century Workplace

Related Blogs:

Providing Conditions for Peak Performance, Patricia Muir

Photo by Unknown or not provided (U.S. National Archives and Records Administration) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Stay positive
Stay positive