Employees can be motivated by both extrinsic and intrinsic factors. Extrinsic motivation is well known to employers. It relates to monetary compensation and other perks, such as private medical insurance or a company car, and is normally part of HR budgeting and strategy. This standard approach to attracting and motivating staff is used by most organisations, but it only works to a certain extent.
What many employers do not understand sufficiently is intrinsic motivation. In addition to monetary compensation, what really drives top talent is a sense of purpose, passion for meaningful work that can make a difference, the ability to learn, grow and develop in the workplace, and the opportunity to interact with interesting people.
In addition, top talent wants autonomy, the ability to experiment with ideas and a caring organisational culture that is not based on hierarchical commands and controls, paralysis by unnecessary bureaucratic processes, and excessive rules and regulations that stifle creativity and innovation.
International research confirms that knowledge workers and top talent share certain characteristics and have special needs and aspirations. They are highly skilled, intrinsically motivated and often ignore corporate hierarchy. They need to be treated as associates or partners rather than subordinates, and benefit from organisational cultures where authority is based on knowledge, not formal power. They perform best in environments where they have autonomy, manage themselves and take responsibility for their own productivity.
Four decades of scientific research into human motivation (Daniel Pink, Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us, published in 2011), reveals a mismatch between the evidence and most business practices. While carrots and sticks worked successfully in the 20th century, financial incentives alone are no longer enough to motivate people for today’s challenges. It is much more effective to give workers a sense of purpose, mastery, and autonomy over their time and their tasks. This is explained by our deeply human need to own our lives, learn and create new things, and do better by ourselves and the world.
Vlatka Hlupic is professor of business and management at the University of Westminster, a management consultant and author of The Management Shift