As HR and communications pros, we’re constantly asking ourselves, “What can we do to motivate employees?” And often we answer that question based on what we THINK or KNOW from talking to our people (i.e., through a survey, focus groups, etc.), or based on our own experience and observations of what’s worked in the past.
But imagine if you could answer that question DEFINITIVELY? Well, a few weeks ago, I heard a speaker who could do just that.
I was attending a conference called ee.Connect, hosted by achievEE, a community of HR and communications leaders committed to driving innovation and success through employee engagement. [Side note - the conference was outstanding and I’d recommend you keep ee.Connect on your radar.] The conference kicked off with a talk led by Lindsay McGregor - co-founder of Vega Factor, author of the best-selling book Primed to Perform, and self-proclaimed “culture nerd.”
Lindsay presented a summary of some of the brilliant insights contained in her book, including highlights of her fascinating research looking at what it takes to motivate employees. First, she demonstrated that when people are highly motivated (or they have high “total motivation” or “TOMO”), they are better equipped to perform both the tactical or basic tasks required for their job, as well as adaptive tasks - meaning, they’re able to be more creative and flexible - i.e., they can “think on their feet.”
In addition to highlighting a number of factors that can lower TOMO - things like shame or anxiety, or a drive to achieve a financial reward - she also reviewed the data-backed drivers of motivation: Purpose, potential and play.
The first two - purpose and potential - did not come as a big surprise to me. If all the hype about millennials has taught us anything, it’s that employees are driven by work that provides deep meaning. After all, we ALL like knowing that the work we do each day is having a broader impact. And of course, it’s no great surprise that folks are more motivated when they believe their work today will lead to greater opportunities tomorrow.
But what really struck me was the link between motivation and play. In this context, “play” doesn’t mean letting employees play foosball at work. It’s about empowering them to explore new ideas, discover solutions and follow their curiosity at work. In fact, Lindsay went as far as to say: “Play is the most direct and powerful driver of high performance.”
Lindsay’s talk (and subsequently reading her book) really got me thinking about how companies can infuse more “play” at work in order to motivate employees, and ultimately drive business results. Her book is chock full of suggestions, but a few to consider include:
- Giving employees the time and freedom to explore new solutions (Google’s “20% time” is the best example I can think of for this!)
- Create opportunities for employees to come up with new ideas for improving company performance (hello, Hackathons!)
- To build a culture of curiosity, reward employees for learning new skills, not for performing.
Want to learn more? I highly recommend Lindsay’s book, Primed to Perform. If you want a quicker summary, this article Lindsay co-authored for the Harvard Business Review is good one. You can also check out the video of Lindsay and her partner Neel’s fantastic talk at Google. Enjoy!