You Cannot Motivate Anyone – Motivation Comes From Within!

16 May 2018

You Cannot Motivate Anyone – Motivation Comes From Within!

May 16, 2018

One of the main questions that product development organizations battle with is people’s motivation and commitment to their work. Numerous studies have shown that employees who are motivated and actively committed to their work have a very positive impact on the organization’s results and operations. The equation is simple: the more committed and motivated the employees are, the better the company performs. To put it in even simpler terms: without motivation, we would not achieve anything.

An actively committed or engaged employee can be defined as a person who is an active contributor in their work, for example in writing blogs or organizing various events, and at their workplace outside their actual working hours. Engaged employees are committed to their work and jobs and are enthusiastic about them both. Sounds like an ideal situation, doesn’t it? However, the reality is much more stark, as studies have shown that most employees “just go to work.” In contrast, engaged employees only account for some 15% of the workforce.

We often measure the job satisfaction of the personnel with annual job satisfaction surveys, but the results of these surveys do not have a particularly unequivocal link to work engagement. When reading the results of job satisfaction surveys, you should understand that a satisfied employee is not necessarily an engaged one. Some people enjoy being at work for some reason other than the feeling that the work itself is rewarding or inspiring. As such, we could also measure the work engagement of the staff, in addition to their job satisfaction. One instrument for this is Gallup’s 12 questions to measure employee engagement, which I would recommend be localized to suit the Finnish mentality.


The Means Cannot Be Found in Snake Oil Bottles or Miracle Cure Jars

Studies show that when the company’s values, mission and purpose are clear, it helps people become engaged in their work.

So how can we make people more engaged in their work and become more motivated? This is the billion dollar and euro question that there is not unequivocal and easy answer to. Instead of using tricks, gimmicks and cosmetic commitment programs, the company should be viewed as a system – and a complex one at that. Complex challenges are ones that have no direct answers due to the sheer number of variables. The organization comprises people with personal motives, passions, and skill levels that vary on an individual basis. In such environments, the best we can do is apply proven principles.

Studies show that when the company’s values, mission, and purpose are clear, it helps people become engaged in their work. The idea that people are doing work that is meaningful to them provides a good foundation for efforts to make more people become engaged in their work and make it possible for them to feel that their work is rewarding. A company should not be only thought of as a money-making machine; instead, the social and societal significance of its operations should be emphasized. A great many people want to contribute to the greater good.


Sisäinen motivaatio on tärkeämpää kuin ulkoinen.


Inner Motivation Beats the Financial One

With regard to motivation, there are slightly more concrete methods available to us. For a long time, employees were considered to be motivated only by financial incentives or the fear of punishment. However, the situation is not quite this simple, as each of us also has our own intrinsic motivators. The concept of intrinsic motivation is a surprisingly new find. This concept was launched by psychologist Harry Harlow in 1950, inspired by the results of his experiments with monkeys. He noticed that monkeys would solve the problems presented to them without receiving rewards or being sanctioned for their performance. In other words, the monkeys solved problems for the pure joy of solving them. The carrot and stick are external motivators, whereas the joy of working and the satisfaction gained from it are intrinsic.

Below is a list of 10 examples of sources of intrinsic motivation:

  1. Curiosity: curiosity is programmed into people. People who are especially motivated by curiosity enjoy examining new things.
  2. Honor: for people who value honor, clear and jointly approved ground rules, Code of Conduct, and values are important. These types of people often work in armies or religious institutions, for example.
  3. Acceptance: the diversity and multiculturalism of the work environment and open appreciation and acceptance of differences are motivating factors for some people.
  4. Mastery: many people working in product development are motivated by this – it is important to them to perform challenging work, continuously learn something new about their own field, and continue to improve themselves.
  5. Power: of course, this can be understood from a more traditional perspective, but also to mean that people have the opportunity to influence their work. This is the same thing as autonomy.
  6. Freedom: some people are motivated by the ability to perform their work as independently as possible and without depending on other people.
  7. Relatedness: people who value this thrive when having the opportunity to work in a team and when they have good relationships with the members of their work community.
  8. Order: everyone needs order around them, but it is more important to some. These people are motivated by safe routines and the stability of the work environment.
  9. Goal: particularly for people working in occupations that they consider to be their calling, it is important to have a clear goal and purpose for their work. They often feel that the work resonates with their own set of values.
  10. Status: there is a reason for why people decorate themselves with titles and appellations – it increases their social status. These people are motivated by having the opportunity to advance all the way to the top of the company in their careers.

So what about money? Of course, it is a strong motivator for some people, and it is a significant factor for everyone. A good guideline for this is that the financial compensation should be adequate to take the discussion about money out of the agenda. External motivators are also needed, but keep in mind that intrinsic motivators allow people to thrive!


Sounds Sensible, But What Does This Mean in Practice?

What you can do to motivate people is to create an environment in which people can realize their own intrinsic motivators as well as possible.

Things to consider! Are the purpose and values of your company clear to you? One good method is to hold “value days” regularly, such as once a year, in order to discuss the purpose of your company’s existence, what your values are, and how they are visible in practice. Write your own company culture book, in which your employees tell stories in their own words about how the company’s values are visible in their work. This helps concretize these very abstract matters and serves as a good reminder of what we are and how we operate.

What you can do to motivate people is to create an environment in which people can realize their own intrinsic motivators as well as possible. The descriptions in these examples are not set in stone. These motivators mean different things to different people, who are able explain how they would be able to get as much out of these motivators as possible. Ask around, listen and discuss, find out what motivates the people in your organization or your teams and colleagues, and remember that the only way you can motivate people is with external rewards (which are dangerous or have a short-lasting impact) or by imposing sanctions. If you really want people to get motivated and engage in their work, provide them with an environment in which it is possible.


For an example of the use of intrinsic motivators, see here.

If you are interested in leading a product development organization of the future, visit our website! 

Mikko Korkala

Mikko Korkala

Product Development Consultant

Mikko is a long-term product development professional. He started his career as a software engineer, but found his vocation between agile and lean methods. Mikko has worked with both development teams and senior management, and has included the roles of coach, trainer and researcher. Mikko is one of the first to start a systematic research and development of agile methods in Finland. His free time Mikko spends with his family reading and working out. Cycling, in particular, is close to Mikko's heart.

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