Beyond Money: Intrinsic Motivation Drives Top Performance

It’s not hard to understand why most companies use monetary rewards to incentivize specific behaviors or desired outcomes. It’s been standard operating behavior for decades. But here’s the funny thing — science shows us that the focus on monetary rewards actually hinders performance, as demonstrated by best-selling author, Dan Pink, in his TED Talk, “The puzzle of motivation.”


“Traditional notions of management are great if you want compliance.
But if you want engagement, self-direction works better.” (13:25)

What Motivates People In Today’s Business Environments?

Pink explains that the 20th Century approach, in which motivation is triggered by “carrots and sticks” (or what we call “rewards and punishment”), is less effective in today’s workforce. While these frameworks may work well for straightforward and mechanical tasks, most of us aren’t working on assembly lines any more. We’re solving complex problems that don’t have one clear solution. What motivates people in today’s business environments? Science irrefutably points to intrinsic motivation. Intrinsic motivation comes from inside an employee rather than from any external or outside rewards, such as money or bonuses. The motivation comes from the pleasure they get from the task itself or from the sense of satisfaction in completing or even working on a task.

When people are intrinsically motivated, they do something for the sheer enjoyment of doing it — not because they’re expecting to get something in return. By finding ways to tap into intrinsic motivation, organizations can unleash the true potential of their people, leading to unanticipated strides toward success.

So, how do we do that?

Leaders: Three Ways to Activate Your Team’s Intrinsic Motivation

1. Make Your Vision Their Vision, Too

Show a compelling and bold vision of the future. When leaders are passionate about their vision for the future and the mission that calls them out of bed each morning, that energy is contagious. People are inspired by that energy, and will naturally call upon their own resources to contribute to the effort.

2. Interrogate Your Values

Nothing can kill intrinsic motivation faster than disillusionment. Think about your company values. Are they lofty, “nice on paper” values or do they match the company’s day-to-day behaviors and beliefs? It’s worth taking the time to fully investigate, and if needed interrogate, your company’s values statements to ensure they actually reflect how your company shows up in the world. This will go a long way in helping to create the conditions for intrinsic motivation to flourish.

3. Ensure Managers Are “In The Know”

Be sure that managers understand what matters most to each of their individual team members. It may be autonomy in their work conditions, mastery of the work itself, or feeling a sense of purpose. Once managers understand these unique driving forces, they’re better able to tap into their employees’ intrinsic motivation by connecting those needs with the needs of the business in a way that’s mutually supportive.

It’s exciting – and sometimes scary – keeping up with today’s fast-paced and ever-changing world. By fostering work environments that shore up your workforce, letting them tap into the deep wellsprings that exist within them, you’re far more likely to keep pace and go the distance.