Is Employee Motivation the Key to Performance and Retention?

Written By: Richard Lear, CEO

Is Employee Motivation the Key to Performance and Retention?

Can motivating your employees improve employee loyalty and retention? What is the role of motivation in the overall performance of your people? These are larger questions that motivation experts like Daniel Pink in Drive; and Paul Lawrence and Nitin Nohria in Driven address. These pundits contend that motivation is a key driver in everything from employee performance to retention, to overall corporate performance. So, what are the keys and how difficult is it to effectively motivate your people? 

Daniel Pink suggests it may be easier than you think. In his landmark book, Drive, Pink submits that motivating your high-value employees is less about what you do, than what you don’t do. 

For Pink, and others, the key is unlocking their intrinsic motivation. 

Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic Motivation

Employees who are intrinsically-motivated seek purpose, autonomy and mastery in their work life. Unlike extrinsic motivators, these concepts can cost companies relatively little. Pink categorizes workers as either heuristic or algorithmic. Heuristic workers, who rely on creativity and more complex skill sets, tend to be intrinsically motivated. Algorithmic workers, typically front-line workers, performing repetitive tasks, tend to seek extrinsic rewards for their motivation.  

A recent Bain study, which classifies employees into six worker types, suggests more than 70% of tech employees are intrinsically motivated. This means they are less focused on extrinsic rewards, like catered lunches and better dental benefits, than being truly empowered to make a difference. These employees want to make an impact. And given a clear playing field, they will. Motivating high-value, heuristic workers may mean simply removing impediments in their work life. Less is more.

Give them more responsibility, or greater autonomy over their work. Empower them with the tools to better collaborate, plan and execute in often-chaotic team settings. Give them greater visibility into leadership strategy and company direction. Give them their voice and they will self-motivate. 

Until now engagement surveys and employee experience tools have been used to inform retention. These tools often focus on addressing company policies, work aesthetics, perks and employee recognition on a company-wide basis. These are extrinsic motivators. They may be effective with your front-line employees, but do they truly motivate your top talent – your heuristic workers? 

According to Bain research, the core drivers of your talent are nuanced and differentiated. Each  employee has their own set of priorities that inform their core motivation. Company-wide initiatives that address extrinsic benefits are likely to fall short with most, especially with your top talent. Instead, Pink and others believe your VPs, executives, managers, software developers and product people are yearning for their managers to simply remove obstacles so they can pursue objectives aligned with their own intrinsic motivators. They are driven to ‘make a difference’. Clear their path and employee motivation will skyrocket. 

The caveat: make sure you understand that motivation is personal and that your talent may respond differently to whether you are offering intrinsic motivators, or extrinsic rewards. 

If you can successfully improve talent motivation within your team, you unlock performance, and can capture greater employee loyalty, retention, higher morale and increased productivity. 

Experts in motivation suggest that if you really want to address performance mindset and retention of your talent, you’ll need to engage each of your people on a personalized basis, find out what really motivates them, identify the blockers, and then actively clear the path.   

At the outset, I asked, “Is employee motivation the key to performance and retention?” 

The body of research on motivation advanced by Pink, Lawrence, Nohria and others suggests that if you can capture it, and then act on it, that would be a resounding, “Yes!” 

I’m curious: in your experience with talent performance and retention, what have you found? 

Richard Lear is CEO and founder of TalentValue™

TalentValue™ is a SaaS solution, designed to “elevate your talent” that improves performance and retention. It also guides companies to pay more fairly and competitively. It’s built on a Motivation Index and real-time market compensation data. The solution gives managers visibility into employee mindset, promotes manager-employee engagement, and unlocks employee motivation. The result is better performance, employee loyalty, higher morale and improved corporate productivity. 

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