Let’s face it; regardless of whether you’ve been in management for over a decade or you’ve just been recently promoted as a first-time manager, cultivating employee engagement and motivation doesn’t come easy. The numbers speak for themselves: A 2017 study by Gallup, entitled State of the Global Workplace (registration required), found that just 15% of employees worldwide are actually engaged in their work. This means that an alarming 85% of employees are not fully engaged or are even actively disengaged in their job!
So what do managers have to do with it? A lot. More specifically, Gallup’s State of the American Manager indicates that managers account for at least 70% of the variance in employee engagement. Given that we spend a significant portion of our lives at work, creating the circumstances in which your people feel motivated and engaged is crucial. Not only is this good for employees and business, but it is also good for you — both in terms of performance and job satisfaction.
Unfortunately, however, too often we view motivation from a “sticks-and-carrots,” extrinsic perspective only; we set up rewards and prizes to draw out desired behaviors in our direct reports or team. While we know that fostering intrinsic motivation has many more payoffs, we also know that it takes more time, energy and effort. In the end, the investment is well worth it. Research shows that intrinsically motivated employees do more creative work, are more engaged, stay at their job longer and are less prone to burnout.
To me, the key to fostering intrinsic motivation in your people is simple: Put time and energy into practicing and refining a set of coaching-inspired management skills. Coaching comes down to unlocking a person’s potential to maximize their own performance by helping them gain greater self-awareness and alignment with their values, strengths and goals. And according to research, this is exactly what people want in a manager — it is no secret that the majority of employees value learning and professional development above most other aspects of a job.
The beauty behind cultivating intrinsic motivation in your people is that they’re already motivated. As a manager, your job is to foster and elicit the motivation that already exists inside of them by setting up the interpersonal conditions conducive to this. Below are five ways in which you can begin to tap into your direct reports’ intrinsic motivation.
1. Discover What Motivates Them
Effective coaches take the time to find out what drives and motivates their clients. Show interest in your employee as a human being first. Do you know their top five core values? Their goals, interests, strengths, aspirations? Do you know when your direct reports feel most alive, proud or engaged? In other words, do you know your team members as people first and foremost? Not only will this allow you to better identify learning and development opportunities, but it will also give you valuable insight into how to engage and motivate your people.
2. Build Accountability
Great coaches are skilled at setting clear goals and expectations up front and then checking in on progress toward these goals on a consistent basis. Make an effort to engage in coaching conversations in each one-on-one with your direct report by checking in on their professional development. This will demonstrate you are invested in your direct report’s professional development while also giving you the opportunity to hear their suggestions, ideas, problems and issues, all while tying this information back to their goals and motivations.
3. Invest In The Co-Creation Of Meaning And Purpose
Research from BetterUp (where I serve as a strategic advisor) has found that nine in ten workers would take a pay cut in order to engage in more purposeful work. One way to help co-create purpose for your team is to work with them to co-develop a mission statement, vision or team manifesto. Ask the simple question “Why does this team exist?” But don’t stop there; continue to ask “why” questions until you’ve discovered your team’s deeper and more personal purpose, not just the obvious technical one. In your one-on-ones and team meetings, frequently revisit your purpose or mission in order to keep it front and center.
4. Engage Them In Professional Skill Development
One of the most powerful things about coaching is that it addresses learning and development in real time. Although important, static leadership development training is vulnerable to the infamous forgetting curve. In fact, it is said that 70% of learning happens on the job. Since true opportunities for behavior change and professional growth don’t necessarily happen in the classroom, managers are in a prime position to use coaching to reinforce skill development in real time. Take time to work with your direct report to process challenges, identify areas of growth and to help them arrive at their own solutions.
5. Acknowledge And Reinforce Their Efforts
How consistent are you with letting your employees know that you are aware of their efforts and accomplishments? This simple but powerful act of acknowledging progress drives deep intrinsic motivation. Teresa Amabile, professor of business administration at Harvard Business School and author of The Progress Principle, has found that a key motivating factor for employees is a sense of progress toward meaningful goals. Employees who receive acknowledgment of their efforts and progress on a regular basis increase their productivity, receive higher satisfaction scores from customers and are more likely to stay with their organization.
If you are willing to put in the effort, practice and time toward implementing coaching-focused practices, you can tap into the powerful, proven connection between employee development and intrinsic motivation. Moreover, you can gain richer insights into what motivates your employees and how they can ultimately add more value to your team. It’s one thing to have your team consistently hit key business goals; it is another thing to do this while also helping your people develop and reach their full potential. Perhaps most importantly, this approach will enable you to form more authentic connections with your direct reports, which will add to a deeper sense of meaning to your work and ultimately keep you motivated as well.