02/15/2017 07:54 EST | Updated 02/15/2017 07:54 EST

Help Your Employees Motivate Themselves

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Climber standing on a mountain summit

Wouldn't it be nice to have employees motivate themselves?

Helping your employees motivate themselves is easier than you might think, and it starts by helping them feel good about the work they do. A powerful approach I teach in my Leadership Training or Executive Coaching is called Intrinsic Motivation. At a high level, Intrinsic Motivation is about helping employees feel one (or all) of the following 4 things:

  1. Making a difference - working on something important
  2. Learning something - growing - developing
  3. Demonstrating an expertise they have
  4. Exercising independence - over what they do, when and how they are do it

Helping employees exercise independence (point #4 above), is a scary concept for some organizations; they fear no work will get done. On the contrary... most of the time. Of course, a balance between autonomy and accountability must be outlined and agreed upon. Once that balance is agreed upon, when employees are Intrinsically motivated they will be engaged, work harder, work longer and be more creative. When employees are Intrinsically motivated they will be happier. When employees are Intrinsically motivated no one needs to be worrying about work quality.

Personal pride is a wonderful motivator.

Here are 4 ways you can help your employees motivate themselves.

1. The first opportunity is a best practice that is as old as the hills (as my dad would say), but it works. Encourage employees to break projects and/or long-term goals into smaller manageable chunks.

Why does this work? Breaking projects into smaller projects lets people feel they are accomplishing things frequently. Big projects can feel overwhelming... especially when we are working on multiple big projects / priorities at the same time. Smaller chunks of work also have the wonderful advantage of helping us mentor junior employees; for example, smaller projects can be explained and delegated to Millennials who want to gain experience.

A word of caution, do not lose sight of the main project goals. We can sometimes get too involved in the details of the smaller project and this might compromise the success of the large project.

2. See mistakes as learning opportunities. A positive and supportive work environment will always improve employee effectiveness. We all make mistakes. Let me say it again... we all make mistakes, and we have a choice to point fingers at who may be to blame (if there ever is only one person), or we can see mistakes as opportunities to be even more creative, to try something different and/or learn a new approach. Trust and respect are huge when it comes to self-motivation and group motivation.

Why does this work? When we are scared to try something new - when we blame ourselves or others for mistakes, we risk locking ourselves into 'how we've always done it'. If you stand still you can be sure there is some other organization that will innovate right past you. Positive thoughts inspire us - negative thoughts can pull us down... so, evaluate mistakes as learning opportunities.

The Best Dreams Happen When You Are Awake.

3. Surround yourself with positive people. This doesn't mean you have to spend time with happy, bubbly people 7/24; that would be annoying.

Why does this work? When we stay positive we feel better and are often more creative and more productive. When we stay positive we evolve. The more you focus on being positive - in life and at work, the more you will motivate yourself to passionately focus on your goals. Even during difficulty, positive people are looking for solutions - not holding a grudge.

People who see the glass as half-full are so much easier to be around. Negative thinking is unpleasant to be around and your best employees might quit just to get away from it. This means you might be losing valuable talent for no good reason. By encouraging a positive approach you'll soon see your work environment will become a happy, creative and productive place!

4. Write in a Journal. I know - I know... you just rolled your eyes. Please try to write in a journal every day - even if it is only a short paragraph while you sit having breakfast, on the Go-Train or when you have a private moment.

Why does this work? By writing you get to explore feelings you might be holding back... and I bet you will come up with the best solutions. You'll also begin recognizing how many wonderful experiences you have each day and that some of your challenges aren't so big - or aren't so important. By keeping a journal you'll be building a more positive mindset and you'll find yourself more motivated and look forward to what's in store for you.

Keep track of your thoughts and feelings. Most importantly, each day write down two things you are happy or excited about.


If you are looking to create change in your organization - lasting change - look to how you can help your employees motivate themselves. In fact, when people experience self-motivation they will likely do more... do it better... and finish earlier. You and your employees will not be able to adopt these habits overnight... but with consistent, positive attention, before you know it these 4 ways will start making a difference. I promise.

Happy communicating, mentoring, motivating... and training.

Click here to learn more about Bruce Mayhew Consulting, Executive Coach and Corporate Trainer / Speaker.

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