The Motivation Solution

A new Korn Ferry white paper on narrowing the gap between “intrinsic” and “extrinsic” motivation.

It continues to be the Holy Grail for organizations: creating a workforce filled with “engaged” employees, workers who are productive and excited and will help push the organization to new heights.

But few organizations seem to have found that grail. Worldwide, only about one third of employees say they feel highly engaged. The problem, experts say, is that firms aren’t doing a particularly good job engaging workers who aren’t already intrinsically—or self—motivated. “Organizations rely too heavily on the innate motivation employees bring to work with them each day,” says Mark Royal, senior principal for Korn Ferry Hay Group.

In a new Korn Ferry report, “Strengthening performance through greater employee engagement,” Royal lays out the case for creating the right form of motivation for employees. The best thing an organization can do, the report says, is to make employees feel that they are part of a winning organization, where organizational success equates to individual success. Other key motivating factors are nurturing an employee’s career, rewarding him or her fairly, and publicly recognizing excellent performance.

Increasing engagement levels is critical in today’s fast-changing world, Royal says. Workers are going to either be faced with ambiguous situations, asked to do more with less, or both. Engaged employees are more likely to be able to act independently but remain true to the organization’s values and mission. But a big swath of organizations worldwide haven’t found the right tactics. According to Korn Ferry research, only 59% of employees believe their organization motivates them to do more than what the job requires, compared to 70% of employees who feel personally motivated to do more than is required of them.

To be sure, organizations can only do so much because, intrinsic motivation is a consistently more powerful force than extrinsic motivation. It’s a phenomenon that spans across countries, industries, genders and ages, according to the report. Indeed, the report details how self-motivated workers are far more likely to want to exceed work expectations than workers who feel motivated by something their employer does. Royal says these intrinsically motivated workers also tend to be more creative, solve problems more efficiently and effectively, and demonstrate better conceptual thinking.

But organizations can push levers to support an employee’s own intrinsic motivations. Some of these actions are direct, such as giving employees challenging, interesting work that fully uses their skills and abilities. Other actions, such as removing institutional barriers or redesigning workflow, can also have a positive impact on a worker’s intrinsic motivation. “Employees are coming to work ready to satisfy internally focused needs and goals, but organizations are not keeping up their end of the bargain by providing the additional inducements needed to harness this energy,” Royal says.

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