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Intrinsic Motivation

By: Tracy Simmons, Fleet 2 Account Lead

I preface this short article by saying that I am not an expert on motivational theory. I do base my approach on experiences I have had while working at small businesses. These businesses have limited resources to enact the robust motivational programs that companies like Google or Southwest Airlines offer their employees, and turn primarily to compensation and standard benefits packages to motivate employees. However, even these large companies, with all the bells and whistles, may overlook a simple truth: Motivation based on values that originate internally from an employee is more potent than motivation that manifests externally.

Companies and managers have focused on extrinsic values as the workplace's primary motivation source for too long. I believe this one-dimensional approach results in unnecessary turnover and high costs of recruiting new employees. Recruiting requires significant investments of both time and money from a company, and any extraneous activity in this area compounds those costs. In other words, it is simply bad business to spend money on recruiting when hiring and retaining the right people in the first place avoids a lot of this extra expense.

By uncovering intrinsic values during recruiting efforts and understanding if the company can intersect its extrinsic motivators (money and benefits) with the prospective employee's intrinsic values, a Hiring Manager can fully understand if the employee and the company are sufficiently aligned. If a good fit exists, developing an employment plan that considers both extrinsic and intrinsic motivators of the employee will help companies drive down turnover by creating a relationship at the beginning of employment. Both the employee and the employer begin as partners in each other's success.

Intrinsic values can include positional, work-life balance, educational, or monetary goals. Examples include things like "leading is important to me," "a degree is a priority for my future success," "autonomy to accomplish my tasks as I see fit is ideal," or "a high salary is important to me." These often go together. Regardless, these values should inform the structure of the compensation and benefits package, set initial goals and objectives for the employee, define the employee's career path within the company, and set the company's cultural boundaries the employee must work within. Most importantly, this employment plan is discovered and fleshed out before the employee has worked their first day or very soon after.

A company's ability to holistically understand a new employee's motivational factors will significantly enhance the ability to tailor an employment plan that profoundly resonates with an employee's intrinsic and extrinsic values. This approach creates a value relationship between the employee and employer and increases the likelihood of long-term retention. It lets new employees know from the very beginning that they are respected and not a "butt in a seat" or a simple money-making mechanism for the company. This approach tells the employee that they are an intricate and essential part of the company from the outset.

I would love to hear the ideas that folks have for implementing such an approach or thoughts about its efficacy. One idea is to offer compensation and benefits as a la carte options. For instance, an employee could elect to sacrifice salary for greater tuition assistance or increased paid time off, increase 401K matching for less health care cost matching, or substitute executive or leadership coaching for tuition. These are just a few examples. I hope folks have creative and exciting ways to turn intrinsic values into benefits and, ultimately, an employment plan that helps employers maximize the value they offer their employees.

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