Harness the power of intrinsic motivation.

Our lead story this month is chock full of ideas for motivating your team. We offer practical tips ranging from figuring out what makes individual employees tick to harnessing technology to advance your goals.

As you work to implement them, it's important to remember a key point from the article: Sustained performance is a result of people acting because they choose to — not because they feel they have to.

Intrinsic motivation is the desire to do a good job for the sake of doing a good job. To harness this kind of motivation in your employees, think AMS: autonomy, mastery and purpose.

Social psychologists agree on few things so unanimously as the need for people to feel they are directing our own lives in order to thrive. We humans don’t like being told what to do, even by ourselves, so subconsciously we rebel. The implications for managers are clear: Give people some control over what they do, when they do it, how they do it, where they do it, and who they do it with. The way information and situations are framed will either promote the likelihood that a person will perceive autonomy or undermine it.

And it’s really just a smidge; simply adding a phrase such as “But you’re free to choose” or, “But obviously, don’t feel obliged” can greatly boost persuasion rates (In one experiment, in a French shopping mall, only 10 percent of people gave to a charity when asked — but when researchers added, “You are free to accept or refuse”, the proportion shot up to 47.5 percent).

Mastery

People want to feel successful, to have the chance to express the best of themselves and the opportunity to show their strengths. Managers, however, tend to dwell on their employees' weaknesses. “The most powerful thing a manager can do for employees is to place them in jobs that allow them to use the best of their natural talents, adding skills and knowledge to develop and apply their strengths,” writes Marcus Buckingham in First, Break All the Rules – What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently. “People who focus on their strengths every day are six times more likely to be engaged in their jobs, more productive and more likely to say they have an excellent quality of life,” says Buckingham. He adds however, that only two out of 10 American workers are playing to their strengths most of the time.

For the manager, this requires taking the time to identify and deploy the differences among their employees, challenging each one to excel in his or her own way.

In addition to being allowed to work on something they have an innate competence at, workers want to feel they are getting better. “It’s not just mastery, it’s the sense of growing and learning,” says Susan Fowler, author of Why Motivating People Doesn’t Work … And What Does, noting that this is why video games have rankings, levels, and points. They say “You’re improving” and that feels good.

Many managers have a jaded view of workers. They see them as disconnected from the business' greater goal. But the truth is that most people’s accountability to themselves is high; they want to contribute, they want to go home happy having accomplished something. “Purpose is the yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves (like the store team), to demonstrate to ourselves as much as anyone, that our lives matter and that they have meaning,” says Daniel Pink, author of the bestselling Drive: The Surprising Thing About What Motivates Us. It also has to do with their desire to be part of a community, “to care about and be cared about by others and the chance to be part of something admirable,” adds Fowler, who also refers to this drive as “relatedness.” To be sure, this can be a tricky area -- appealing to people to find fulfilment in generating bigger profits for your store – can create dissonance, but with the right level of authenticity business owners have a great opportunity to help people derive meaning from their work. “As you experiment with new actions, focus on the sense of accomplishment associated with the result,” writes Kerry Patterson in INFLUENCER. The Power To Change Anything. “Revel in achieving for the sake of achieving. Tap into people’s sense of pride and competition. And when it comes to long-term achievement, link into people’s view of who they want to be … When dealing with activities that are rarely satisfying, take the focus off the activity itself and reconnect the vital behavior to the person’s sense of values.”

Building such an environment can be complicated by the fact that workers themselves often don’t know what motivates them. “When an employee is unhappy at work, she is inclined to ask for more money,” says Fowler. “What I find is that most people haven’t developed their values, they are the values of our co-cortal group," she says, urging that you talk with your workers about what they really want and discover what really drives them.

A final thing to keep in mind is that motivation follows action.

One of the biggest misconceptions about motivation is that people need to be in the right frame of mind, to have the right energy levels and a concentrated mind before they can take action. To be sure, there is something to be said for stirring speeches, for the feeling of being pumped and charging into a task, hair ablaze. But having to feel inspired or just in a positive mood about doing something often results in delaying action.

Rather than waiting for inspiration, it’s usually better to nudge people into starting regardless, be it through smart scheduling, routines or hacks like habit chaining.

“And once they do start, a funny thing happens — motivation — along with a sense of high energy, a sense of concentration — usually shows up shortly thereafter,” writes Oliver Burkeman in his productivity column for The Guardian.

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