Three ways to ignite performance

The statement that leadership is about driving performance through other people is one of those easier-said-than-done situations. What’s more, it’s a challenge that changes in both scale and form as leaders move through what Ram Charan calls the leadership pipeline - the six critical leadership passages from first-line manager to enterprise leader. Each passage asks different things of leaders and as such, requires leaders to develop and deploy different skills.

While the skills required at each level may be different, leaders at all levels share the same goal, to motivate and get the best out of their people. This is the crux of the leadership pipeline: organisations must make sure that the right leaders are in place at the right levels with the right skills to engage their people. Aligning these three things has a powerful effect on people’s motivation. And it’s these motivated employees who will go the extra mile to drive performance.

Intrinsic and extrinsic motivation

Of course it’s not as simple as flicking the motivation switch. Motivation is inherently complicated because it varies from person to person. What’s more, it can be driven both intrinsically and extrinsically. Intrinsic motivation is sparked by those things that are inherently interesting to or enjoyable for an individual, while extrinsic motivation is governed by external forces, influenced by the organisation and work environment.

While both forms of motivation have their place, intrinsic motivation trumps extrinsic motivation when it comes to performance. Our data shows that 76% of employees who feel intrinsically motivated exceed performance expectations, compared to 60% of those who feel extrinsically motivated.

The great opportunity to boost intrinsic motivation

While the research shows the importance of intrinsic motivation, many organisations are leaving a significant performance dividend on the table. Why? Because leaders rely too much on the innate motivation employees bring to work with them each day without thinking specifically about what they can do to bring that motivation alive.

To do this, leaders at every level of the organisation need to look at what they can do within their sphere influence to boost motivation. Often the answers can be found in employee feedback. For example, individuals want to feel confident in their ability to achieve career objectives - it’s one of the most critical drivers of engagement. Helping individuals to achieve career goals is something that’s at the core of leadership, whether as a first-line manager or enterprise leader.

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Three ways to unleash intrinsic motivation

Tapping into intrinsic motivation involves getting into the trenches of leadership. It means understanding individuals on their own terms to learn what excites and challenges them at work. To maximise intrinsic motivation, leaders should channel their efforts into:

  1. Keeping communication channels open: Leaders should facilitate on-going communication between themselves and their team members on what helps and what hinders them from being effective. This could involve understanding particular experiences that an individual is seeking, or may uncover particular values that it will be important for the individual to align with.
  2. Managing bureaucracy: Bureaucracy - whether real or perceived - is a major de-motivator. Leaders should remove as many barriers as possible for their teams to encourage innovation and collaboration, while managing perceptions around those processes that are necessary.
  3. Diving into employee feedback: Often the raw data for boosting intrinsic motivation can be found in your engagement survey. But to learn more, leaders should use follow-up initiatives such as focus groups to find out the what really makes their employees tick, from both positive and negative perspectives. Look at highly-engaged teams and compare them to less-engaged teams: what it is that makes the difference?