How Do I Motivate Joe?

Published on: 11:27AM Sep 03, 2010

As workplace leaders and managers, anything you can do to create on-the-job intrinsic motivation will lead to increased productivity and greater job satisfaction.

The most frequent question I get asked is, “How do I motivate Joe (or Emily or Bill or Betsey, etc.). The simple answer is: You don’t. Joe must motivate Joe!
The explanation, however, of that simple answer is difficult. Let’s begin with an illustration from Daniel Pink’s excellent new book, DRiVE: The Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us.
Imagine that it is 1995, and you must choose which one of the following two encyclopedias will be more successful in 15 years (today):
A.            Microsoft will hire experts, professional writers and editors to develop an encyclopedia to be sold as CD-ROMs and online.
B.            The second encyclopedia will be written by thousands of volunteers with no particular expertise and for no monetary reward. It will be online and free.
If you were successful in imagining that it is 1995, the answer would be obvious – Encyclopedia A. Microsoft and its experts have great incentive to produce a successful encyclopedia. What incentive do those providing their free time have?
We now know that your 1995 prediction was wrong! Microsoft pulled the plug on its encyclopedia in October 2009. Wikipedia – Encyclopedia B – is thriving with its 13-million-article resource, one of the most used websites on the Internet. 
Extrinsic and intrinsic motivation
To better understand this result, we must contrast extrinsic and intrinsic motivation:
·                     Extrinsic motivation, which has served as the basis for motivation theory, holds that people respond to externally provided forces. The way to motivate people is to reward the good and punish the bad.
·                     Intrinsic motivation comes from inside of us. In the words of motivation researcher Edward Deci, human beings have an “inherent tendency to seek out novelty and challenges, to extend and exercise their capacities, to explore and to learn.” He adds, however, that this tendency is fragile and requires the right environment to survive.
There is an impressive body of research supporting the importance of intrinsic motivation, especially for the types of complex, high responsibility jobs common in today’s economy. For our purposes, we need not debate the supremacy of intrinsic or extrinsic motivation. Rather, the question is how we can capitalize on both.
First, a slight side trip. Most of you know that I am a mission freak. I have spent most of my career recommending its development to my students and clients.
Let’s think about mission in terms of intrinsic motivation. The more we and our employees understand and are committed to the mission of our business, the more likely intrinsic motivation will kick in. The importance of intrinsic motivation adds yet another reason for spending the necessary time to articulate our business’s mission and engage our workforce in its fulfillment.
Now let’s touch on three topics as we try to understand the role of intrinsic motivation:
·                     A review of Herzberg
·                     An intrinsic motivation system now in use
·                     What intrinsic motivation can do in our business
A review of Herzberg
Herzberg’sTwo-Factor Theory is a staple of motivation theory. He argues that the maintenance or hygiene factors provide for the employee’s basic needs. These factors -- economic factors (wages, housing, and a variety of other fringe benefits), security needs (grievance procedures, seniority privileges, fair work rules, and company policy and discipline), social needs (opportunities to mix with one’s peers), working conditions, and status (privileges, job titles, and other symbols of rank and position) -- do not necessarily create a motivated work force. Rather, a lack of them causes dissatisfaction among employees. These are clearly extrinsic motivators that do not likely provide any intrinsic motivation.
Herzberg argues that the motivation factors -- challenging work, feelings of personal accomplishment, recognition for achievement, achievement of increasing responsibility, a sense of importance to the organization, access to information, and involvement in decision-making -- when provided in the proper quantity and quality, satisfy the employee’s needs and create an increased commitment of time and energy to the job, i.e., increased motivation. These clearly are more likely to appeal to the intrinsic motivation of the individual.
An intrinsic motivation system now in use
ROWE – a Results Only Work Environment (developed by Cali Ressler and Jody Thompson; I have had the pleasure to hear them in person) – has shown impressive increases in productivity and job satisfaction at Best Buy and other companies. In a ROWE environment, employees are judged only on their results – getting their work done. They do not have supervisor-prescribed schedules, although they or their team may need to set schedules to get the work done. They are judged on results. How, when and where they do the work is up to the employee and/or their team.
I actually don’t think the key is the lack of a supervisor-prescribed schedule, as most of the jobs in our business do require a schedule. The key is the intrinsic motivation that comes from controlling howone gets results.
What intrinsic motivation can do in our business?
Returning to where we started: Only Joe can motivate Joe. We, however, have tremendous opportunities as leaders and managers to create an environment where Joe and everyone else choose to be motivated. As you create that environment in your business, keep in mind that anything that can be done to create on-the-job intrinsic motivation will lead to increased productivity and greater job satisfaction.
Dr. Bob Milligan is Senior Consultant with Dairy Strategies, LLC and Professor Emeritus, Cornell University. His insights come from 35 years of working with farm businesses. He also was an award-winning teacher in the fifth-ranked undergraduate business program in the country. Bob lives in St. Paul, Minnesota. Contact him at 651 647-0495 or[email protected]. Visit his Web site at or