How To Motivate Employees

By Leo Gura - January 19, 2014 | 4 Comments

Learn how to motivate your employees in 15 minutes. Avoid the common pitfalls of traditional motivational approaches and instead, motivate them with vision!

Video Transcript

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Hey, this is Leo from and in this quick self-help segment, in about ten minutes, I’m gonna show you and give you some tips about how to better motivate your employees.

What is the bottom line, the core of motivating employees? This is a somewhat deep concept – there are book written about this, How To Be A Better Leader, How To Be A Better Manager – so this is a sub-component of being a good manager or leader. I’m not gonna be able to cover it as in-depth as I’d like, but I’m gonna give you some practical tips and key insights that you can take away with you and implement right now if you’re a manager or a leader.

Carrots And sticks

The biggest point here that needs to be made, and where people go wrong, where managers go wrong, is that they try to incentivise their employees with the simple, old psychological model of carrots and sticks. They give employees carrots for doing things that they want them to do, and they give them sticks or penalties for not doing the things that are required of them.

Sometimes, there’s some discussion there.Should I be using negative motivation, or positive motivation? Should I give them a carrot, or a stick? That whole model is wrong. That’s not gonna get you good performance, optimal performance from your employees.

To really motivate an employee, what you want is the employee to be autonomous. You don’t want them to be just a robot chasing a carrot or avoiding a stick. That’s gonna make a robot employee. What you want is a creative, autonomous employee who is going to be internally motivated.

Intrinsic Motivation

This is about intrinsic motivation. In fact, studies have shown that when people are intrinsically motivated, naturally motivated to do something, and you go in there, and you give them even a positive incentive on top of that…

Let’s say, this is the situation: they’ve actually done experiments where you can have a child playing with some crayons. Just drawing, just for the fun of it, they have playtime for thirty minutes. They do that.

You split that group in half. You give one group the control, just time to play for thirty minutes and draw with crayons. You give the other group the same exact time, the same exact crayons, everything’s the same, except you tell them that you’re gonna pay them twenty dollars each to sit there and draw something for those thirty minutes.

What actually happens, counter-intuitively, is that group that you incentivised extrinsically with money – even though it’s positive motivation – because it’s an extrinsic motivator it actually diminishes their enjoyment of that activity. It reduces their performance and actually you get better drawing, more creativity out of the group that’s just doing it because they like to, rather than because they get incentivised to.

Appealing To Humanity

This example shows you that carrots, just giving your employees carrots, is not always the best strategy. Telling your employee that he’s gonna get a bonus for doing something creative, doing something bold on the job – sometimes that can be a benefit, but sometimes it can be a detriment. If he wanted to do it anyway, you incentivising him with money kind of cheapens the deal.

It’s almost like, think about it, if I just did something kind to you on the street, and then you’re like “Wait, let me pull out my wallet, and let me give you a hundred dollars, because you just did something kind, you held open a door for me while I was carrying a stack of books”.

It kind of cheapens the humanity of that act. I was just giving you something. I was just opening the door out of the kindness of my heart. I felt it was kind of a nice thing to do, and I don’t expect any compensation for it. Yet here you are, like this hotshot with this hundred dollar bill, now wanting to compensate me. I feel kind of dirty taking that money from you. This was something I was happy to do anyway.

If you really wanna motivate your employees properly, what do you think you have to do? It’s not giving them more carrots, necessarily. It’s certainly not giving them more sticks. Nobody likes to be penalized for their performance at work. Instead, what you do is you inspire them. Great leaders inspire. Great generals inspire their troops in battle. Great presidents inspire the nation to rally around a cause.

A Vision That Inspires

The same is true for great leaders in companies. Every great leader in a company is a visionary. He has a vision. He has some ideal that he is driving towards. Something that’s a mission of his. He is able to articulate this mission effectively all the way down the line.

His troops know about it, so when they’re out there, and you ask them to go to slaughter, to go face the trench machine guns, when you ask them to do that, they better have a damn good reason for doing it. It’s not because you’re paying them an extra thousand dollar bonus. They’re not gonna do that. But they will do that if you appeal to their higher values.

What higher values am I talking about? These are higher values that all of us, all human beings, appeal to on a certain level. We all want this. We want it intrinsically. We don’t even need money for it. These are things like beauty, excellence, honesty, justice, order, love, kindness, fairness.

These are principles that people resonate with. These are appealing to their highest self. What you gotta do is appeal to the highest self in each one of your employees. What do they really want? What are their highest selves? Maybe you’ve got a sales force. One tactic you can use to motivate them is just say “We’re gonna give the top three salesmen in this hundred-people sales force a five thousand dollar bonus at the end of the quarter.”

The Value Of Higher Values

That might be kind of a traditional strategy. A better strategy, though, instead of having them fight for some bonus, which would actually be counter-productive, a better strategy is to create a vision for what they’re working towards. Have them buy into the company’s mission. Not on a superficial level. On a deep level.

That means, for example, have a product that your salespeople can be proud of, that they wanna sell. Don’t have them out there selling a crappy product they can’t believe in. Have them wanna believe it. For example, have them sell a product that’s important to humanity, that’s progressing humanity.

Do you think there’s a difference having a salesperson, for example, sell a cheap, effective Chinese product that they know breaks to months down the road and then customers have to go and buy a replacement, and you’re selling something like high-quality wheelchairs, to allow people to move better? Or they’re selling a prosthetic leg, a better engineered, high quality prosthetic leg, that helps war veterans overcome tragedies of war and amputations.

Which of those do you think is gonna appeal to their higher values? It’s kind of a no-brainer. You motivate people with that, and make sure that they see what they’re actually doing with the positive influence they’re having. If your product, service, company is having a positive influence in the world, and it should – and if it isn’t, that’s really the problem you need to fix first.

Let’s say it is. Make sure your salespeople, or whoever’s working for you, is realising what is happening, and the role that they’re playing. People are motivated when they have a vision they’re working towards. When they see that vision is doing good, and they see what they’re doing is impacting that vision.

Contributing To The Cause

That’s the next point. You want to make sure that your employees know what it is they’re contributing to the cause. If I am sitting in a cubicle, typing away at the computer all day, and I don’t see the effect that is having on the ultimate goal, then I’m not bought in. I can’t be. It’s not possible. I’m disconnected from that product. I’m disconnected from the vision. I’m not seeing the feedback.

But if I’m typing stuff up, and also seeing the emails that we’re getting from the clients and customers, with rave reviews and all these thank-you letters that we’re getting… We’re literally dragging in piles of thank-you letters into the office and dumping them on the floor or the coffee table. Then, once in a while, we’ll get up and read those letters, or an employee can walk by and read one at random, how do you think that is gonna make them feel?

Totally different, right? They can see the impact. It’s like “Oh, I made this piece of code and it allowed somebody to, all of a sudden, have this amazing experience, and then that somehow positively impacted their life.” Now I can be bought into that, that might be important to me. That is a very important point to keep in mind.

Being Human To Each Other

Finally, the last point I’ll make here is: if you really want your employees to be motivated, you want them functioning as a unit. You want them to be cohesive. To do that, as the leader and a manager, you have to be in touch with your employees. Go out there and be connected to them, listen to their concerns, ask them what they want, give them training, actually care about them.

If you treat them like cattle, they’re gonna behave like cattle. It’s gonna be hard to motivate them in any other way but a carrot and a stick. That’s not a very effective way to motivate humans. Treat them like humans and they will be motivated by human desires. That is important. Also, of course, values. Values are important.

Make sure that your employee base is bought into the values that you as a leader are espousing. First of all, that means you have to articulate your values. What is it that the company stands for? What is it that this division stands for? What are we trying to accomplish? Is it excellence, loyalty, customer service, what is it? Define that stuff.

Then make sure that the people on your team are actually bought into it. Not just in name. Don’t craft up some hokey mission statement and values list and just pin it to some board in the cafeteria. This is something that people have to be bought into.

One Direction

Actually, they’ve done research on this. Jim Collins famously did research on this and they found out that what it takes to keep an organisation very successful over the long run is to have cohesion among values and employees. Everyone has to be on board, they have to be bought into the values of the leader. If there’s a lot of disparity of values, and one person has this opinion, and another person has this opinion, and the leader has another direction, and everyone’s pulling in different directions, what do you think happens?

Everyone’s pulling in different directions, and the ship’s going nowhere. It’s going round in circles. You want a clear direction to where you’re going. You want people who are bought into that direction and are on board, and are saying “Yeah, I wanna go there too!”. When every one of your guys and girls wants to go in the same direction you do, then where do you think you’re gonna go? You’re gonna go there.

Wrap Up

Those are some of my basic, fundamental tips about how you want to set up your motivation strategy for employees. This is a deep topic. I think I’m gonna shoot some more videos, more specifically breaking down each one of these points, and maybe covering some other ideas I have about motivation and, specifically, team engagement.

Go ahead and check out my site for those. I’m gonna wrap it up here. Go ahead and leave your comments. I’d love to hear what you have to say about this. Please like and share it, and check out for more advanced personal development videos like this one.

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christine says:

This reminded me of cognitive dissonance theory…am I wrong? I just read an article on this subject.

I love your video’s!


Leo Gura says:

Perhaps, I shot this video so long ago I forget exactly what I said, hehe

Sharon says:

Hi Leo, loving your videos and the style of your thumbnails!

I have a question. My boss decided that the best way to motivate me to finish on time was to either make a point of looking at the clock or – as in the case a few days ago – come up behind me and say in an accusatory way “Why are you still here?!” I’m sure you’ll agree that this wasn’t the best motivational technique to use on someone who is rushing to finish. Infact it made me feel more under pressure and prompted a defensive response from me where I sought to explain why I was still finishing off. I didn’t shout but definitely “pushed back”. My boss’s response was to say I should calm down and that the job shouldn’t take as long as it was and that I wasn’t listening to his advice (which presumably was “why are you STILL here?!”

Here’s the context, we are understaffed in a busy newsroom. I don’t have a problem with live radio and deadlines, but I do have a problem with being given more work than is reasonably acceptable.

When I have sought to explain things in the past my boss has rather patronisingly told me about multi-tasking and breaking chores down in to chunks – quite frankly the kind of tips and strategies I have been using for over 20 years. It doesn’t alter the fact that what he thinks is achievable on paper, isn’t realistic. I don’t work in a bubble.

His other trick to motivate is to push for a time when we think work will be done or “locked down”. this increases pressure because there are other variables and external factors outside my control.

My colleagues are all under pressure and frequently sick. I can see the energy that this boss has brought to the team, but he seems to be a bully.

I push back. Other colleagues won’t stand up to him.

He will say that my reaction is the problem. He even said I would “burn my bridges” doing so which is nothing short of threatening.

I’m told by my line manager that everyone is expected to not go over shift as a matter of welfare and concern. I don’t think it shows concern to be bullied for being an hour over shift when you couldn’t help it.

I was interested to watch your video here and wondered what your thoughts were.

Sharon x

Eelco says:

I like the video. I will implement this in 2015!

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