How Understanding Employee Motivation Contributes to Organizational Success

How Understanding Employee Motivation Contributes to Organizational Success

Those of us in compliance and risk management know this better than anyone. When teams are doing their jobs only because of some external risk of audit, poor evaluations or even termination, they're not working at their best.

 “Motivation is the art of getting people to do what you want them to do because they want to do it” -- President Dwight D. Eisenhower

Those of us in compliance and risk management know this better than anyone. When teams are doing their jobs only because of some external risk of audit, poor evaluations or even termination, they're not working at their best.

Teams end up with low morale, inefficient workarounds and a poor ability to establish priorities that lead to business success. They make mistakes. You can see this in their outcomes.

Even when the external motivators are positive like more pay or team-recognition, the level of quality and compliance are lacking.

But when motivation comes from the inside, we're working with team members who are committed to a purpose and a certain outcome for their team and the organization as a whole.

Let's look at how understanding employee motivation contributes to success.

The True Impact of Motivation

A specialized performance study found that team members who are not internally motivated are working at around 20-30% of their capacity, while highly motivated employees are working at 80-90% on a regular basis.

The motivation of the employee is the single most important determinant factor of an employee's success. It's not education, skill level or even that all-important communication.

Now, consider this from a compliance and risk assessment perspective.

How likely is a person who is only 20% engaged to make critical mistakes that jeopardize other employees, customers and the company? What's a mistake cost the organization in legal fees, fines, worker's comp and loss of goodwill?

We need our teams to be motivated.

From the organizational perspective, If a whole team is at 20% capacity, how much does this impact organizational profitability? How long will an organization be able to survive in a high risk, competitive industry like your own?

Motivation is clearly important. But the type of motivation matters as well.

Intrinsic vs Extrinsic Motivation

A group of Yale researchers followed 11 thousand West Point cadets over a 14-year period. They found that the most successful cadets had strong intrinsic (internal) motivations like:

  • Wanting to become a strong leader
  • A sense of personal accomplishment
  • A desire to help others
  • Loving their work
  • Working with like-minded people
  • Pursuit of knowledge/experience

But the cadets who had extrinsic (external) motivators were less likely to graduate, become commissioned officers and receive promotions.

Some extrinsic motivators include:

  • Medals/Awards
  • More pay
  • Better job prospects
  • Recognition for accomplishments

They found that the intrinsically-motivated group received these things and more, although those were not their primary motivators. They also found a third point that you'll find very interesting.  

People with very mixed intrinsic and extrinsic motivations weren't as successful as people purely intrinsically motivated.

For example, if someone was going to West Point both for the better job prospects and wanting to be a leader, they wouldn't find as much success.

What If Team Members Are Extrinsically Motivated

You may be asking yourself, if the employees in our organization are already extrinsically motivated is there anything we can do about that? 

A study discussed in the Harvard Business Journal recently took on this question. It found that pay (an outside motivator) only contributed to around 10% of a person's enjoyment of their work.

These were more important to those they studied:

  • Improving the relationship with upper management (feeling like an equal contributor)
  • Positive work environments
  • Work-life balance
  • Opportunities to grow and advance

All of these speak to very intrinsic needs. Intrinsic motivation is the natural state of things. People tend to become extrinsically focused only when their internal motivations aren't being recognized.

Shifting the Balance

To shift the balance, first, understand the importance of internal motivation. This isn't to say that adequate pay and reward systems aren't important. But they don't speak to internal needs.

  1. Work with your individual team members to learn more about what matters to them.
  2. Work with management to create an open culture where people can discuss these motivators. The more they know, the more effectively they can address them.
  3. Establish cross-team and cross-departmental systems to address intrinsic motivations.
  4. Create an "intrinsic first" policy. We won't feel that we've done all that we need to do simply by putting an external reward system in place. 

Internally motivated team members are more invested. They'll produce quality work more efficiently and effectively. They make fewer costly mistakes, therefore reducing risk.

To learn more about the human side of risk management, explore the many resources on our site.