How to motivate your employees: three tried-and-true theories, explained

How to motivate your employees: three tried-and-true theories, explained


Behind every successful company, there are top-performing, engaged employees. Are you wondering how to motivate employees as a manager? Effective leaders constantly ask themselves this question. While each employee has unique needs and expectations, the human race shares a number of key principles. These have been identified by a long lineage of researchers and experts studying motivation and its impact on performance.

As an executive search firm, PIXCELL is able to recognize leaders who are capable of mobilizing their troops to achieve a goal. During the recruitment process, we use precision behavioural assessment tools.

In this article, we provide an overview of the different motivation theories that have proven their value and, most importantly, explains how you can use them to drive performance within your company.


1. Intrinsic motivation


By definition, intrinsic motivation comes from deep inside us. It is the essence of who we are. In a work setting, it is what pushes employees to go above and beyond. It involves their values, relationships and past achievements. Over the long run, these sources of motivation provide employees with a sense of belonging and company loyalty. They are much more effective than external sources of motivation, such as a pay raise.


How do you use intrinsic motivation in your manager role?


As a manager, are you able to identify your employees’ intrinsic sources of motivation? More importantly, how do you tap into them?

Here are some ideas:

  • Establish corporate values that your employees can relate to. And do more than just pay lip service to them: embody these values on a daily basis.
  • Help your employees develop new skills, either internally or through paid training.


2. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs Theory


This well-known theory developed by Abraham Maslow has applications in management and countless other areas. According to Maslow’s research, our motivation comes from our needs being met. Our needs can be arranged in a hierarchy, with the most basic ones at the bottom.


How can you use Maslow’s theory in your organization?


While the bottom levels relate mainly to salary and job stability, the upper levels are just as important for driving employee performance. As a manager, you can take action at various levels.

Social needs

  • Create a pleasant work environment, even when working remotely
  • Foster teamwork and propose team activities


Esteem needs

  • Give employees company-wide recognition for good work
  • Make your employees feel like they are integral to the company’s success


Self-actualization needs

  • Energize your top-performing employees with professional challenges
  • Speak with your employees about their career plan


3. Herzberg’s Two-Factor Motivation Theory


Frederick Herzberg contends that there are two sets of factors governing job satisfaction and dissatisfaction: hygiene factors and motivation factors.

According to this principle, the less satisfied we are with our working conditions (hygiene factors), the less motivated we feel in our job. Conversely, the more we feel valued in our workplace as a result of having responsibilities and autonomy (motivation factors), the more motivated we feel in our job.


How to motivate employees as a manager using Herzberg’s theory


Similar to Maslow’s hierarchy, Herzberg’s theory argues that employees initially derive motivation from satisfying their basic needs, such as having income and status. However, this source of motivation alone is not going to keep employees engaged and productive in the long run.

As a leader, you therefore need to find ways to tap into your employees’ motivation factors and thereby inspire them to do their best work. There are a number of possible strategies:

  • Make it known that your company provides opportunities for advancement.
  • Empower your employees: they should feel that their success is in their own hands.


Motivating employees without money


As the above theories demonstrate, it is wrong to believe that compensation is the sole source of motivation for employees. At PIXCELL, we have confirmed this on countless occasions in our headhunting services.

It is true that many executives who are actively job hunting want to improve their terms of employment and, in particular, want to obtain a higher salary. However, many of them are also seeking something their current employer is not giving them: the opportunity to move up the corporate ladder, exercise their leadership or work on a project that reflects their values. During the headhunting process, these factors often prove decisive in convincing an employed manager to consider a new position.
François Piché-Roy, President and Senior Consultant, PIXCELL


By talking with your employees about their motivations, you gain a better understanding of their expectations and can gauge how to keep them satisfied without necessarily putting more money on the table.


PIXCELL: leaders recruiting leaders


Do you need to hire a leader who will inspire your employees to excel? Turn to the Montreal executive search experts at PIXCELL for all your recruitment needs. We know that good managers are made up of more than just theories.

With our expertise and cutting-edge technologies, we are your best ally for recruiting the executive who will succeed in motivating your team and achieving your company’s goals.

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