Why Money Isn't Enough to Motivate Your Team Members

You need to stop focusing solely on material rewards and focus on nonmaterial ones.
Why Money Isn't Enough to Motivate Your Team Members
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Advisor, Leadership Development at Google
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Reprinted from The Meaning Revolution: The Power of Transcendent Leadership © 2018 by Fred Kofman. Published by Currency, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC.

The Gallup organization did the most extensive empirical research ever carried out on the subject of productivity and engagement. It examined over 400 organizations, interviewing a cross section of 80,000 managers, and about 2 million surveys. Using performance measures such as sales, profits, customer satisfaction, employee turnover and employee opinions, they distinguished between bad and good workplaces.

Related: 6 Ways to Motivate Individuals to Become a Winning Team

The first and second job experiences of the daughter of a friend of mine, a millennial just out of college, illustrate the Gallup research. The woman -- let's call her Amy -- first held a job for about six months in telesales at a software firm. She didn't care about the business, and she knew it wasn't a career job, but she took it to pay the rent. She was paid $20 per hour plus bonuses for meeting or surpassing her quota. Her job was to cold-call people who had previously used the company's software to sell them a new product. The job had nothing to do with Amy's desires or talents; she was just a cog in a machine.

Amy didn't really know what the point of her work was, other than pushing the company's product -- which she had never used. She didn't know how this product would benefit the customers; she just parroted her scripted sales pitch in a skull-numbing litany hour after hour. She only knew that if she met her sales quota, she'd get a reward, but if she failed to reach them two months in a row, she'd get fired.

"My manager never praised me, only criticized me," Amy complained. "I never seemed to do anything right. I was stressed out all the time. I didn't have the tools I needed to do my work well. And I didn't want to ask, as I saw that when any of my teammates asked for help they'd get in trouble. I just put my head down and did whatever I had to do. I hated the job, my boss, my coworkers; and after a while, I began to hate myself."

Related: Money Is Nice, But It's Not Enough to Motivate Employees

To the great relief of her parents, Amy quit that awful job; and to their great delight, found a new one where she feels totally engaged. She now works at an organization that connects people from the same neighborhood online. She believes that this organization is committed to achieving something good in the world. She feels grateful to participate in a noble purpose in the company of people who support her. She understands how her efforts fit into the big organizational picture, and she knows that her work touches many lives for the better.

Amy knows what's expected of her and is trusted to deliver it without being micromanaged. She has quite a bit of flexibility and autonomy regarding how she does her job and coordinates her efforts with her coworkers. She knows her manager is there to support her and to help her grow. The manager is always available and often asks Amy if she needs any tools, materials or training to do her job better every day. Periodically, he'll engage her in a career conversation, encouraging her to plot a course that makes the best use of her talents and passions.

Amy gives her best, and her manager acknowledges her efforts with generous praise. Amy feels useful and tuned in to the work that best fits her. Everybody around cares about her, too. Some of her best friends are her coworkers. She's helping them and watching them thrive, and vice versa. If there's any disagreement among the members of Amy's team, they discuss the situation, trusting that their collective intelligence will lead to a wise resolution that integrates everybody's needs and perspectives.

Related: 4 Innovative Ways to Motivate Your Team

Amy feels that she is part of an extraordinarily high-performance team, where everybody is committed to doing a quality job. She's proud of what she does, how she does it, what she does it for and with whom she does it. Changing jobs or retiring is not even a remote consideration in her mind; she wants to rise in the organization to help it thrive.

According to a 2014 study of 300 companies, 94 percent of millennials want to use their skills to do good in the world. More than 50 percent say they would take a pay cut to find work that matches their values. If you don't want to leave all those $1,000 bills on the sidewalk and engage the team you lead, you need to see through the illusion that extrinsic rewards are what employees care about most. You need to stop focusing solely on material goods and focus on nonmaterial ones.

The four pillars of intrinsic motivation

Organizations that engage their people rely on what I call the "Four P's" of intrinsic motivation:

  1. Purpose: Significance, meaning, impact, service, self-transcendence
  2. Principle: Integrity, ethics, morality, goodness, truth, dignity
  3. People: Belonging, connection, community, recognition, respect, praise
  4. Autonomy: Freedom, creativity, achievement, learning, self-mastery
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