There are a number of types, theories and models of motivation. There are also a number of people who will tell you which is best. They offer quick fixes while not having a clue what sort of a company you have, what types of people make up your organization or what you are trying to accomplish.

Motivating employees is a business challenge like any other. Therefore, address motivation strategically. Start with your strategy and work backward. Begin with the most strategic positions, those that have the greatest impact, and work your way through to the least strategic (aka support staff). You may find that the damage that could be done by support staff doesn’t warrant as much investment in motivation as critical roles. Ask questions relevant to your business and specific to your positions.

What are you wanting to achieve?

Goals of the software development team look different from goals of the IT team which look different from goals of the sales team. Draw causation between behaviors and performance to determine what behaviors you need your people to exhibit. Once you have established what behaviors you are in need of, you can look for talent that will be most suited for these roles. You will want to put your highest performers in roles with the greatest variability and remove low performers from these strategic positions. It makes little sense to invest in someone in a strategic role if history shows that that person is one of your worst performers. If you have not already, you will need to perform a talent inventory, competency assessments and performance appraisals.

How are you currently motivating and what effect is it having? 

What does your company have that it can offer as motivation?

If you are a startup or small business, you may not have the financial means to reward the way a large company can. Assess your resources to determine what you can and can not offer as motivation. This will shape your brand, employee value proposition and total rewards. If you can not afford to compete with Google’s benefits, then you may want to emphasize intrinsic motivation by playing to people’s values.

Who are you trying to motivate?

You should want to have working for you only those who share your company’s beliefs and who’s personalities fit with your company’s culture. These people are going to be the most interested in accomplishing the work your company has set out to perform. Learn who these people are as early as possible. I’ll leave the definition of personality to the theorists but one’s development and beliefs are, at least in part, comprised of their experiences, cognition, emotions and memories. This means you can test for personality and beliefs by asking your people questions that assess how they make decisions. As a side note, questions should be paired with observation and 360 feedback to get the most accurate assessment. However, by understanding what influences your people’s decisions, you can understand what motivates them.

Motivation for what purpose?

From there, you can qualify decisions against your company’s values and objectives. Determine which decisions are a best fit for your organization and start to design work, roles and job descriptions that incorporate desired decisions, as you would other job skills and requirements. You could then track decisions as part of a profile that travels with the candidate throughout the entire employee life cycle as they move around the organization. You would be able to monitor how what motivates your people changes over time. If your Human Resources function is capable, you can even do interesting things like quantify and value types of motivation based on the degree of improvement they has on performance.

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