How to engage employees in performance management through intrinsic motivation

January 19, 2023

Performance management has traditionally been the responsibility of managers, who evaluate the performance of their employees  — often annuallyand identify areas for improvement. However, many employers tie this annual performance management cycle to compensation, with no opportunities in between to address performance, development, and pay, or to individualize rewards and recognition to individual motivators.

First, we will look at different categories of motivators before diving into strategies related to these categories. This approach can help create a culture of trust, engagement, and motivation within the organization and foster a long-term focus on growth and development.

Intrinsic vs. extrinsic motivators

The strategies you use to motivate individual employees will depend on whether you are building on intrinsic or extrinsic motivators and which of these are important to each employee. You can gather this type of information in 1:1 meetings or team meetings, asking employees what types of work help them do and feel their best.

Intrinsic motivators are internal factors that drive an individual’s behavior, such as personal interest or enjoyment in a task. Not all people are driven by the same internal motivations, so managers need to understand psychological needs to optimize employee performance through these types of motivators (Sutton, 2021). Examples of intrinsic motivators in the workplace may include:

  • Sense of accomplishment: feeling proud of a job well done
  • Sense of purpose: feeling like one’s work is meaningful and makes a difference
  • Autonomy: having control over one’s own work and how it is done
  • Learning and growth opportunities: the ability to develop new skills and knowledge

Some employees will feel best when they can be proud of the work they achieved, such as when they complete a major deliverable. Other employees are motivated most when they’re learning a new skill, like doing research in a new field.

On the other hand, extrinsic motivators are external factors that influence behavior, such as rewards or punishment. Examples of extrinsic motivators in the workplace may include:

  • Monetary rewards: compensation increments, bonuses, raises, or commissions
  • Non-monetary rewards: vacation days, flexible work arrangements, or recognition
  • Punishment: disciplinary action, demotion, or termination
  • Pressure or deadlines: having a sense of urgency to complete a task or meet a goal

Monetary rewards are not always the main motivator for an employee, although they are still an important part of the equation. Increasingly, employees are looking for other benefits like flexibility over pay increases and finding meaning in their work.

In many cases, HR can assist directly with extrinsic programs, whereas managers need to take on the individualized aspects of intrinsic motivators. No matter the motivator, identifying what makes employees feel fulfilled and satisfied in their work and creating systems that enhance those drivers will have a longer-lasting effect on employee satisfaction. Identifying your employee’s motivators and working with them to establish goals and career plans that leverage these motivators can set the stage for a culture of continuous growth

Coupling this with a competency-based approach to continuous career progression can provide employees with a sense of ownership over their career path while linking compensation to competency development equitably and transparently across all levels of the organization, 

Individualized strategies to motivate employees

Once you understand what kinds of intrinsic and extrinsic motivators apply to each employee on your team, you can begin to strategize about their unique recognition needs. With all employees, clearly communicate expectations and goals, provide regular feedback and support, and create a culture of transparency and open communication. 

For employees who value a sense of accomplishment most

Extrinsic: Recognize and appreciate employees for their hard work and achievements with a thank you note, a coffee for going over and above, or through more formal peer or employee recognition programs. This can also be achieved by implementing clear milestones and competency-based rubrics so that employees can track and own their individual progress and receive feedback continuously. Competency-based rubrics extrinsically reward employees by linking compensation to development milestones. 

Intrinsic: Support employees to reach ambitious goals by offering words of encouragement and praise for their progress at a team or 1:1 meeting, and remove blockers that may stall progress. Provide additional opportunities for them to expand their responsibilities on a project. Competency-based rubrics also support employees who are intrinsically motivated by personal achievement as they can own their growth. 

For those who value autonomy and flexibility

Extrinsic: Consider offering flexible working arrangements, such as remote work, flexible hours that are based on outcomes, or job sharing, which can help employees achieve a better work-life balance. Competency-based rubrics are one way to directly compensate employees for charting and progressing on their own development path, within the overall goals of the organization. 

Intrinsic: Give employees autonomy over their work by allowing them to make decisions, take ownership of their projects and have a say in the direction of their work. For junior employees, plan pieces of projects for them to lead and deliver to more senior members for feedback. Competency-based rubrics also support employees who are intrinsically motivated by autonomy and flexibility because they can plan their own development path. 

For employees looking for learning, growth, and a sense of purpose

Extrinsic: Provide employees with opportunities to learn new skills through on-the-job training, conferences, tuition reimbursement, and educational assistance. To reward a sense of purpose and team growth, offer a team lunch to celebrate the team achieving a milestone together. Competency-based rubrics support this motivator as employees can plan learning needed to progress on a development path and receive compensation for leveling up.

Intrinsic: Create a culture of health and well-being by offering health and wellness programs, and creating a safe and comfortable work environment. A learning-focused person may want to lead a well-being committee, seek opportunities for collaboration and team building, and provide their feedback and ideas. Engage this person as a workplace champion for new programs like new career progression systems.

To motivate teams, employers should understand individual motivators and recognize and reward employees on a consistent basis through competency-based milestones. Regardless of which strategies you use to encourage growth, ensure that all employees are treated equitably in terms of rewards and recognition. The opportunities don’t need to be equal, but they should be equitable, allowing employees to drive their own career progression.

Connect with us to learn more about democratizing career progression and a new paradigm of performance management.