How to Motivate Employees as a Manager: 3 Methods

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "The First-Time Manager" by Jim McCormick. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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How should you motivate employees as a manager? What two types of motivation are people driven by?

To run an empowered team, you need to keep your employees motivated. To do this, figure out what drives them individually and keeps them engaged in their work.

Here’s how to be a motivating leader at work.

Motivate Your Employees

In The First-Time Manager, Jim McCormick recommends several ways to motivate employees as a manager:

Method #1: Align individual and company goals. Motivation varies from person to person, so McCormick recommends getting to know your employees’ goals, whether they’re interested in learning a new skill or networking with more people. To inspire them to do their best work, try to match their goals with those of the company—for instance, if they want to learn a particular skill, offer them training or mentorship opportunities.

(Shortform note: Promoting your employee’s goals in a way that benefits the overall organization also improves employee retention. Research shows that the main reason employees quit their jobs is because they feel they’re not growing or developing. One way to align employee goals and company needs is to transfer or promote them to a role that matches their goals. If this isn’t viable, try to provide them with education, exposure, or experience opportunities—offer courses or workshops, assign them mentors, or give them opportunities to practice skills they’re interested in.)

Method #2: Share positive outcomes. People enjoy contributing to something bigger than themselves. Showing how their efforts contribute to a positive outcome gives their work more meaning and motivates them to work hard.

Method #3: Give rewards. Rewards show people that their performance and efforts matter and are therefore a great motivator for employees. You should not only reward successful endeavors, McCormick writes, but also thoughtful and well-executed ones that don’t succeed. This encourages people to take innovative risks instead of playing it safe to avoid failure.

Boost Your Employees’ Intrinsic Motivation

In Drive, Daniel H. Pink explains that people are driven by two types of motivation—extrinsic and intrinsic. Extrinsic motivation comes from external rewards, such as money or recognition. Conversely, intrinsic motivation is based on internal satisfaction, such as purpose or enjoyment. Pink says intrinsic motivation is more powerful and self-sustaining, leading to better performance in the long run.

Sharing positive outcomes aligns with one element of intrinsic motivation: purpose. Like McCormick, Pink notes that humans are biologically wired to want to contribute to a cause that reaches beyond themselves. He writes that you can enhance this sense of purpose when sharing positive outcomes by using words that reflect meaningful ideals like “honor” or “beauty” as opposed to less inspiring words like “value” or “differentiation.” For example, if you’re leading a marine conservation team, you might discuss how your efforts have restored the beauty of coral reefs.

Rewards, on the other hand, are external motivators. Pink argues that most rewards actually decrease performance because they reduce people’s sense of autonomy. Once people start doing things for external rewards, they feel less in control of their lives and subconsciously reason that they don’t enjoy the task if they’re getting compensated for it. To reward people without depleting their motivation, Pink suggests giving unexpected rewards once the task has already been completed.
How to Motivate Employees as a Manager: 3 Methods

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  • How to succeed as a manager, whether it's your first time or not
  • Why managers should shift their focus from tasks to people
  • How to gain the trust of your employees and empower them to take initiative

Katie Doll

Somehow, Katie was able to pull off her childhood dream of creating a career around books after graduating with a degree in English and a concentration in Creative Writing. Her preferred genre of books has changed drastically over the years, from fantasy/dystopian young-adult to moving novels and non-fiction books on the human experience. Katie especially enjoys reading and writing about all things television, good and bad.

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