"How do you motivate your employees?" I get asked this question weekly. The answer: "I never try to motivate them." True motivation comes from within. It is the job of a Leader not to motivate people but to remove demotivating forces. We should focus on providing our teams with greater License and capability rather than with rewards and punishments.
We are all intrinsically motivated to be the best we can possible be. Pep talks, bonus plans, punishments, and incentives all detract from this motivation. Daniel Pink has written that the three pillars of intrinsic motivation are autonomy, mastery, and purpose. To that list I add community or the feeling of being part of a team. Notice that money, stock options, profit-sharing, threats, and rousing speeches are not on this list. At best, these are distractions. At worst, they are ways in which other people try to manipulate us.
As with everything--"Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. - Luke 6:31
I don't like it when people try to manipulate me, so why should I try to manipulate my team? Most leaders seem to think they are the only ones blessed with a strong internal drive and that everyone else needs to be motivated in order to do the right things and be successful. That simply is not the case.
If true motivation is intrinsic, and the punishments and rewards are just manipulations in disguise, then what can leaders do to improve the performance and engagement of their teams? We are generally demotivated by a lack of capability--(I'm unable to solve this problem), or a lack of license (I'm not allowed to solve this problem).
One decision that increased capability and license at Gravity was the removal of sales commissions. This shift keeps our reps from having to choose between activities that contribute to their paychecks and activities that are in the best interest of the company. This frees up more of their time to solve problems, thus increasing their capability. The policy also signals to our reps that it's okay to focus on activities that may not lead to a sale. They have the license to act in the company's best interest rather than only in support of their pay structure.
If you find yourself asking the question, "How can I motivate my team?" it might be time to take a step back and ask instead, "How am I demotivating my team?" In the end, the answer to that question will be far more meaningful and lead to better long-term results.