How to Motivate Your Employees

How to Motivate Your Employees

Here is your million-dollar question: how do you motivate your team? that was the question we posed to the experienced business leader and CEO of Axxis Consulting Harald Weinbrecht. Here’s what he had to say on the topic of motivating employees.

I believe that a good starting point to discuss such a topic is probably with Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. It’s been around since 1943, but that doesn’t make it any less relevant today.

Maslows Hierarchy of Needs

Why is this important? Because depending on the country for which you ask this question (i.e. cultural and economical background), and the individual’s background, the answer would be quite different.

For example, Van Nam Nguyen from Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam, a single breadwinner taking care of his family with 3 children, and his aging parents needs to ensure his physiological needs are met. He must ensure his family is fed, and he can provide a roof over their house. If he doesn’t work, he cannot meet the basic needs of himself and his family. His motivation is primarily money, followed by job safety.

For Charlie Smith in the US, single, living in the IT world of Austin Texas, the situation is vastly different. His physiological and safety needs are probably met, so he is looking for relationships and friends, followed by a desire for accomplishment. His motivation would not necessarily be only financial, and he may not be as motivated by a salary increase or additional bonus as Van Nam Nguyen.

Those are two drastically different individuals – but they show a point: People are not necessarily motivated by money. Yes – it does play an important role, but money is hardly ever the main motivating factor. Charlie Smith, whose basic needs are met, will not be as motivated by money as Van Nam will be.

Once basic needs are met, people are motivated by intrinsic factors. And everybody’s internal motivation is different. Joe Duncan is an IT Geek – he is motivated by developing beautifully written software. Alice Smith likes to help people and finds fulfillment in working in an old folks home. Toby Macquire gets a kick out of closing a deal – and he likes the money coming from the commission as it allows him to “keep score”.

In principle, there are 2 forms of motivation: extrinsic and intrinsic motivation.

A normal business environment runs on extrinsic motivation, and this is also how most performance reviews go. The idea is very simple: “Do this, and get that”. “That” being more salary, a bonus, a corner office, the desired promotion, or a company car.

Using extrinsic motivation is easy to understand, and requires very little effort. That is also the reason why this is the most commonly applied form to motivate employees.

Successful companies have found ways to transcend beyond the simple “carrot and stick approach”, and motivate employees differently. How? By appealing to needs higher up in the Maslow hierarchy of needs, such as the need for accomplishment and achieving one’s potential.

People that are driven by a higher sense of achievement are “self-motivated”. A slightly higher salary or a nicer company car will not make the difference they seek for them to change jobs.

Disclaimer: obviously you need to pay your people “fairly” – whatever a fair and reasonable salary is for the job they are doing. If you don’t do this, then they feel cheated, and your whole idea of motivating people is out of the window.

How do you create an environment where people are intrinsically motivated? Here are some ideas:

1. Have a mission

What does your company stand for? What is the purpose of your business (besides making money)? How will your company make a difference in the world? The best companies have a very clear sense of purpose, and convey this clearly to every single employee in the organization.

This helps everyone to feel like part of a team, and to be part of something bigger.  (Do you really think the people participating in the first NASA mission to have a man land on the moon were motivated by earning 20% more or less? Probably not. They wanted to be part of something bigger.)

2. Get personal

Find out what is important for the specific person, what interests her, and what drives her, and then try to provide opportunities for this person to develop this interest.

This is why many IT companies allow “side-projects” for people to spend time on things that really interest them, to meet self-fulfillment needs. If you can develop a job scope for a person in such a way to align with her specific interest, that’s wonderful. If not, maybe such side-projects provide a creative outlet to feel motivated while still executing activities that “pay the bill”.


  • Not everyone is driven by money. This is an illusion created by lazy HR people, or by commission greedy salespeople.
  • Once basic needs are met, self-fulfillment is a core driving force.
  • Intrinsic motivation tops extrinsic factors. Find a mission that unites your team, point them in the right direction, give them the tools, and provide the support. Then get out of the way. You’ll be surprised at what can be achieved.