When was the last time you tried to motivate somebody?

It doesn’t matter if you’re a top CEO, team leader, or a regular Joe. It doesn’t matter if you’re motivating a company, a team, or your daughter to clean her room. Motivation is the key to achieving your personal and professional goals. Motivating others can be the difference between getting a grant and starting a company and working at McDonald’s.


Motivation used to be easy – you reward good behavior and punish bad behavior. Simple! Unfortunately, things aren’t that straightforward today.

But, today we flourish in the Knowledge Economy. This means that knowledge is more valuable than hours spent on a conveyer belt. It means the ideas, creativity, and resourcefulness are the driving force of the economy, not man-hours (everything is automated anyway). As it turns out, the reward/punishment or carrot/stick motivation system doesn’t always work so well in inspiring ideas and creativity. You’ll need to be smart about this.

Now, since they’re not teaching motivation in school, here’s your guide to motivation 101.

Extrinsic Motivation

First, let’s cover the well-known extrinsic motivation. Extrinsic as an outside of the individual that you’re motivating. Sticks and carrots are forms of extrinsic motivation – you reward/punish someone else.

Let’s say you have a daughter who loves to draw. Her teachers see that and give her a prize for drawing the best drawing in class. They share her amazing talent with you as well. You’re more than happy!

You want your daughter to develop her talent and to get her to draw more, you promise her the brand-new “Barbie 5000” doll, but only if she draws diligently for a week. Of course, since she wants the doll, she draws like crazy for a week.

Now, how is this affecting your daughter’s intrinsic desire to draw?

It teaches her that drawing is the “tool” she uses to get rewards. That makes the external rewards the point of drawing and not her inherent curiosity and desire to draw.

There’s a famous study that proves that – extrinsic rewards replace the intrinsic drive (the same goes for punishments). Furthermore, rewards and punishments have the reverse effect as children grow. Kids rewarded for an activity have a greatly reduced chance to pick that as their career. Kids heavily punished for cigarette or alcohol use had a significantly increased chance to pick up those activities when they grow up.

So, intrinsic motivation can be disastrous. It’s simply a hammer and it will just ruin a good bolt.

But when does extrinsic motivation work?

Extrinsic motivation works for repetitive work. Any kind of activity that’s easy to do, repetitive, and isn’t inspiring your creativity. Basically, work you’d rather not do. This kind of work benefits from extrinsic motivation. Here are some examples:

  • Factory work – no wonder extrinsic motivation was the norm for so many years.
  • One-time menial tasks. Printing 3000 fliers for tomorrow isn’t what you hired your programming team for and a financial reward can greatly boost morale.
  • Irregular now-that rewards. If extrinsic motivation is irregular and it’s given after the fact, it can be a useful tool to motivate people. It’s important that the reward is not expected or promised and that it’s given after the work has been achieved. A random unexpected bonus can actually boost intrinsic motivation.

Salaries and Motivation

Now, what about salaries?

It’s obvious that people are motivated by their salaries, but to what extent?

Faced with the decision between working for free (and living on the street) and getting a salary, you’d always pick the latter option. But does that mean that you’ll always accept a higher-paying job?

Of course not. Even though people are very likely to overrate how important their salary is, their actions often point in the opposite direction. You’ve most likely refused a better paying job because you like your current one. Yes, if I triple your pay, you might want to work for me, but what if I just give you a 5% raise?

Or, what if I was paying you 200$ extra every week, but you had to work in a literal (and smelly) dump?

You wouldn’t even consider those offers. You can easily conjure up a number of other cases in which higher pay won’t get you to quit your job.

That’s because financial motivation (extrinsic) has a threshold – once you make enough money to sustain a decent standard of life, additional cash stops being that important. Also, as money’s significance decreases, how do you feel about the job becomes more and more important. Intrinsic motivation becomes the key factor.

Intrinsic Motivation

Your self-motivation or intrinsic motivation is your innate desire to grow and better yourself. You’ve been born with natural curiosity, a want to learn new skills, and the desire to be better. In a perfect world, you’d spend your whole days doing constructive things with the sole purpose to be better. But in our world, this urge is being held under lock and key.

Self-determination theory explains that your desire to better yourself is being held back by three basic needs:

  • Competence
  • Relatedness
  • Autonomy

In addition, there’s a fourth need that Dan Pink introduced in his bestseller “Drive”:

  • Purpose

As long as those three needs are being fulfilled, you will be motivated to do a great job, develop yourself, and pursue mastery. So, let’s examine what they are and how you can motivate others by helping them fulfill those needs.



Competence is your drive to seek to control the outcome of events and to work towards mastery. You want to be the smartest person in the room and even be “the best” in everything you’re passionate about.

Feeling competent in an area of your life means you’ll be playful, creative, and sometimes crazy. You find new things and new ways to scratch your curiosity that keep you interested and motivated.

So, how do you help a person feel competent in an area?

Here are some ideas:

  • Education – make sure you help educate people around you. You can send them to seminars or trainings or just share your knowledge on the matter to help people around you grow and feel more competent.
  • Practice – assign tasks to people seeking mastery in them. If Sarah wants to learn to program in Python, don’t hog all the Python programming tasks (because you can do them faster) – share them with her, so she can practice and become better.
  • Validation – say it when someone does a good job. Everyone loves to be praised. You’ll find that some of the most competent people don’t feel competent because their opinion is never validated by others.
  • Mentoring – nothing makes you feel more competent in an area than teaching others. Not only, you can learn something from your colleagues, but you’ll give their motivation a kick in the butt by asking them to teach you (or your entire team or even company).



Relatedness is your need to interact, be connected to, and care for other people. The higher is your standing in your social tribe (family, friends, or colleagues), the more you’ll want to help the community.

Building relationships deserves a whole other post on its’ own, but here are some ideas you can use right away:

  • Remember people’s names – people love their names and the faster you remember someone’s name, the better they’ll feel about you. To make this easier, you can use this mnemonic technique.
  • Praise people – praise is not only good for validating people’s competence, it’s a motivational boost you’re giving away to a community member. Be high in your praise and make people feel good for every action they take that benefits the whole community. The more public the praise, the bigger the effect.
  • Avoid criticism – criticism and especially public criticism is the easiest way to alienate someone. Be light on your criticism and look for help others improve gently, without trying to bring them down or criticize their ways.
  • Make it about the other person – people are inherently selfish, they want the best for them first and the best for you second. So, make it that way – make sure you frame everything you’re proposing to a person or an organization in a way that highlights what will they gain from that interaction. Don’t try to hide that you’ll gain something as well, just make sure you’re working towards a win-win situation for both parties.


workplace autonomy

Autonomy is your need to have the power make your own decisions. It doesn’t mean independence of others, but having control over your own projects and tasks. Have you ever loved doing something, but then all that disappeared when you had to do it for someone else?

So, here’s a few pointers on empowering autonomous action:

  • Make people responsible – don’t try to hide responsibility, pair it with autonomy instead. Let the person know your common goal and give him the power to do his best to achieve it.
  • Don’t try doing other people’s jobs (to help them). Sometimes in a flash of brilliance, you’ll get an amazing idea for something that isn’t in your hands. Don’t tell the person responsible that your approach is the best and all of his work needs to change. It may be so, but you’ll harm his ego and “steal” his autonomy. Suggest your idea, but make sure you’re ready to let it go. Building a better team is more powerful in the long run, than making one thing a bit better.
  • Ask for advice – asking for advice not only makes the person feel competent, but it gives him a bit of autonomy over other projects. This is not only helpful for your project, but it’s a bucket filled with motivation splashed all over the other person.



Purpose is your desire to work for something bigger than yourself. Screwing bolts all day isn’t particularly motivating, but helping mankind live on Mars is more than inspiring.

Here’s how to get to your purpose and share it with others:

  • Start with “why” – make sure you ask yourself, your team, or your company “why”. Knowing why you’re doing what you’re doing is the common factor that can unite everyone behind a cause.
  • Share your purpose – don’t just ask for things to be done, ask for things to be done because they’ll help the purpose you’re sharing. Everyone, from CEO to janitor, will greatly benefit from doing this for something greater than himself. Washing dishes for a lousy paycheck sucks compared to washing dishes to “help people enjoy the best cheesecake in New York”.
  • Purpose inside a purpose – your team can have its’ own goal. You can craft a mission with your team that will unite you even further. Yes, you’ll still be aligned with everyone else’s purpose, but you’ll have an even stronger bond with your team towards a more specific purpose.

The Motivation Toolbox

motivation toolbox

Motivating people is hard, yes. In fact, it’s so hard that I can’t teach you. So hard that no one else besides yourself can teach you how to do it. You’ll have to go out and try, try, try!

Use thе knowledge I’m giving you to make better day to day decisions. In time, those little decisions will turn into habits. Finally, those habits will help you make people around you more motivated, more productive, and happier.

Start applying those principles today and you’ll quickly see results in both your behavior and the behavior of others around you.

Good luck and stay awesome!

– Jordan

Jordan Georgiev is a programmer at day and productivity expert at night. Jordan can’t stay still. Every minute of every day must be filled in with something – coding, design, a Rubik’s cube or a pack of cards. He insists that time should never be spent doing nothing. Jordan is the author of neverproductive, a blog where he shares some amazing productivity tips.

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