Factors of Motivation: Unlocking Employee Potential

Published: Aug 08, 2023
Modified: Oct 25, 2023

Factors of Motivation: Unlocking Employee Potential

By Brian Tracy

Edited by AMA Staff

In every organization or business, certain key factors of motivation play a pivotal role. These factors significantly influence the motivation levels of the staff, driving them toward either positive or negative outcomes. The dynamic nature of these factors allows for positive transformation—often a change in leadership can shift a management style that wasn't conducive to employee growth, thereby bringing out the best in each individual.

The Four Factors of Motivation

Let’s begin with the four factors that are the basics of motivating anyone, in any organization. These four factors are:

  • leadership style
  • reward system
  • organizational climate
  • structure of the work

The Impact of Leadership on Motivation

Leadership is a key factor in determining how people feel about the company and how motivated they are. When a company undergoes leadership changes the psychological climate of the company is altered, and in turn, the whole employee performance improves.

The appropriate leadership style depends on the goals and objectives of the organization, the people within the company, and the external environment. Your leadership style should be one that focuses on the long-term success of your company, as described by Dr. William Schulz III in his article “Leadership for Long-Term Success.”

In a SWAT team or a fire department, the appropriate style would be more directed and dictatorial, with the person in charge telling people what to do quickly with little concern for personal sensitivities. This style can also be found among entrepreneurial organizations, many of which are struggling for their very survival. In most cases, however, traditional top-down leadership style is no longer acceptable in today’s breed of employees, who expect to be able to speak out, be heard, and have a clear influence on how they do the work.

Different strokes for different folks. A second leadership style is collegial, where one person may be in charge of a department but functions at the same level and with the same knowledge and skill as his co-workers. In this type of organization, people are respected for their knowledge, skill, and ability to do the job.

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Other leadership styles that have been identified are telling, selling, persuading, and participating. Each of these styles is appropriate depending on whether the employee is new or experienced, and whether there is ample time or urgency in completing the task. Sometimes, the manager is required to use different leadership styles for different people under differing circumstances. Want to determine your leadership style? Take our AMA Skill Assessment to find out.

Motivating Through Intrinsic Rewards

Every work environment is characterized by a reward structure, often differing from employee to employee and from department to department.

As author Michael LeBoeuf says in his book, The Greatest Management Principle in the World, “What gets rewarded gets done.” If you want more of something in a company, simply offer greater rewards for that behavior. If you want less of an activity in the workplace, simply pull back on the rewards or increase the punishment or disapproval for that behavior. People respond to incentives.

It is quite common for companies to identify their most profitable products and services, and then increase the percentage of employee commission for selling those specific products and services, while maintaining lower commissions for less profitable items. Employees, and managers for that matter, respond very quickly to increased or decreased financial incentives for specific behaviors or for achieving specific goals.

Creating a Motivational Organizational Climate

Is your company a “wonderful place to work?” The organizational climate is deliberately created and maintained by management. It largely consists of the way that people treat each other up and down the line. It starts at the top, with leaders who inspire and set the tone for the rest of the organization. These leaders have a significant influence in the overall company culture.

When Thomas J. Watson, Sr. started IBM, he laid out the three core values of the company. These values—excellent products and services, excellent customer service, and respect for the individual—would determine the future of IBM, eventually making it the biggest and most respected computer company in the world.

The principle of “respect for the individual” was adamantly enforced at every level of the business, both nationally and internationally. You had free roam to make mistakes at IBM, but you could not disrespect, demean, or insult another person or employee. Treating people badly, especially people under your authority, was grounds for dismissal, no matter how long you had been with the company.

Because of this, people were motivated to compete just to get into IBM, but once they were in they became some of the happiest, most productive, and creative workers in any company or industry.

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The Structure Factor of Motivation

Some work is inherently motivational, requiring creativity, imagination, and elevated levels of energy. Work that involves communicating, negotiating, and interacting with other people to gain their cooperation to get the job done quickly and well brings out the best energies of the individual. It is exciting and challenging. It is usually highly rewarding as well.

However, an enormous amount of work must be standardized and made relatively unexciting in order to be done efficiently and cost effectively. It is hard to motivate factory workers who work on a production line all day and whose activities are carefully monitored and regulated to ensure maximum levels of productivity.

Good organizations are always trying to structure the work so as to match the nature of the work with the nature of the employee and to make the work as interesting and enjoyable as possible.

Learn how to boost employee productivity through the 7 Ways Managers Can Coach Employees to Boost Productivity webinar. 

Exploring Additional Factors of Employee Motivation

The Impact of Employee Engagement on Motivation

Employee engagement is a powerful determinant of an individual's motivation level. When employees feel engaged, they are more likely to be motivated to contribute their best work to the organization.

Involvement in Decision-Making

One of the key aspects of employee engagement is the involvement in decision-making. When employees are included in the decision-making process, they feel valued and heard. This sense of inclusion can significantly boost their motivation as they feel that their opinions and ideas matter to the organization.

Connection to the Organization

Another crucial aspect of employee engagement is the feeling of connection to the organization. When employees understand and align with the company's mission and values, they are more likely to be motivated to contribute to the organization's success. This sense of connection can be fostered through clear and consistent communication about the company's goals and values.

The Role of Work-Life Balance in Employee Motivation

Work-life balance is another key factor that can significantly influence employee motivation. When employees feel that their personal lives are valued and respected, they are more likely to be motivated at work.

Flexible Work Arrangements

Flexible work arrangements can play a significant role in promoting work-life balance. By allowing employees to adjust their work schedules to accommodate personal responsibilities, organizations can help reduce stress and increase motivation. This flexibility can range from flexible start and end times to the ability to work remotely.

Support for Physical and Mental Health

Support for physical and mental health is another crucial aspect of work-life balance. Organizations that provide resources for physical fitness, mental health support, and stress management demonstrate that they value their employees' well-being. This support can significantly enhance employee motivation as they feel cared for and valued beyond their work contributions.

These additional factors of motivation, when combined with the right leadership style, rewarding system, positive organizational climate, and well-structured work, can significantly enhance the overall motivation levels within an organization.

The Leader Can Make an Immediate Difference

The reward structure, the organizational climate, and the structure of the work can be changed, but usually slowly; everything must be thought through carefully and in detail. The leadership style of an organization, however, is the one factor that can be changed quickly, and this change can make a major difference almost overnight.

There is a story of a factory whose managers were highly political and more concerned with their own rewards and privileges than they were with the morale of the workers. As a result, the factory suffered low levels of productivity and high levels of defects, and it was on the verge of being shut down by the head office.

Rather than closing the factory, the head office sent in a new general manager, replacing the existing management completely. On his first day on the job, the general manager was waiting when the first shift of workers arrived that morning, parking their cars out in the unpaved parking lot and walking through the mud to the factory entrance.

When the entire shift had gathered, the new manager introduced himself, and then in front of everybody, walked over to the reserved parking spaces lined up next to the main entrance, where the executives were accustomed to parking when they arrived at work. An assistant gave him a bucket of paint, and the new manager walked along the wall, painting over the names of the executives for whom the parking spaces had been reserved. “From now on, whoever gets here first gets the best parking space,” he told the workers, effectively renewing their motivation.

With the proper training, you can develop the qualities of a good leader. View our variety of leadership training and courses.

Excerpted, with permission of the publisher, from Motivation by Brian Tracy. Copyright 2013, Brian Tracy. Published by AMACOM, which became a sub-imprint of HarperCollins Leadership in 2018

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