5 Critical Ways to Tap into Your Team's Psychology & Inspire Performance

6 min read

Motivators are like fingerprints – everybody has a different set. This can be a daunting realization for most managers, that everyone want’s something unique to them, and trying to take this into account while crafting a compensation strategy is downright dizzying. But because motivation is a science, we can get closer than ever to pinpointing the motivational desires of each employee. Why is this? Because while no two people have the same set of fingerprints, everyone has fingers - and if you focus on these 5 tenets, you can create a comp plan that nails the most critical desires.


Harvard Business School professor Teresa Amabile and independent researcher Steven Kramer collected almost twelve thousand electronic diary entries from 238 employees in seven different companies to find out why employee engagement was in decline. They found that of all the factors that resulted in employee engagement, the most important was making progress in meaningful work. To create meaning for your employees, find out what matters to them, then create a work environment that reflects this information by showing a connection between employee tasks and organizational goals. You can also coach your managers to provide feedback and recognition that reflects individual knowledge, and empower your employees to share their ideas.


In The Carrot Principle, authors Adrian Gostick and Chester Elton discuss a study they did of more than 200,000 employees over a ten-year period. Their research showed that employees produced the best results when they received praise or accolades, yielding significantly better results than even money. To effectively recognize your own employees, measure them clearly and objectively, and provide them with daily feedback. Monitor your performance data, and reward the top performing reps by recognizing them in person, on a leaderboard, or in a company wide email blast.

Autonomy and Choice

In 2006, Edward L. Deci and Richard M. Ryan conducted several studies to evaluate how subjects performed when they felt controlled as opposed to self-directed. They found that the group that was allowed to act based on their own opinions persisted significantly longer in a puzzle-solving activity than did those who were told how to solve the puzzle or pressured to solve it in a specific manner. Finding a way to let employees perform as individuals, while also monitoring them and overseeing company operations, can be a difficult balance to maintain. The best thing you can do is trust your employees, provide resources that guide behavior, and monitor for issues outside their day to day. Trust that the work you put into their training and their plans works, and keep an eye on their efforts.


This relates strongly to the previous point – employees not only desire autonomy, they want to have earned it with competence, and to continue to perform in such a way that justifies the continued trust you place in them. But in order to feel competent, employees need to be properly and intelligently trained, in programs that are sensible and well designed. The best strategy here is to conduct research into your organization to define the correct competencies, and compare that data to real performance metrics. Finding a correlation therein denotes a solid competency with which to work

Increased Responsibility and Growth

A study by the Hay Group showed that one reason employees quit is that they aren’t using their skills. Most people think long term about their careers, and they want to know that they are receiving the right training and coaching, followed up by the right challenges, to improve and progress through the ranks. It’s important for organizations to determine support gaps and then apply the right training and coaching to appropriately expand skills and give the employee the best chances of succeeding. To ensure that employees are always challenged with stretch goals, performance data should be carefully analyzed and incentive compensation plans adjusted. With the right approach, you can develop an atmosphere in which employees are constantly growing and learning.

To learn more about how psychology and the science of motivation can help you create more accurate and personalized incentive compensation plans, check out Game the Plan: Every Sales Rep’s Dream; Every CFO’s Nightmare.