The Motives that Drive Employee Performance

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In your workplace, are you building your culture around what you do or the why behind what you’re doing? Knowing what you do is essential but will only get you so far. Knowing why you do what you do is the secret to long-term success. Looking past the bottom line and seeing the people and culture within your organization is what will set you apart. “Why we work determines how well we work” (HBR).

A study in the 1980s identified six main reasons why people work, with three of the motives directly correlated to increased performance. Those three “good” motives include play, purpose, and potential, and should be maximized. The three “good” motives are:


When individuals are motivated by the work they are doing, simply enjoying it at its core. This motive is tied to curiosity, experimentation, and exploring challenging problems. For example, an accountant driven by “play” truly enjoys the duties and tasks of accounting.


When individuals are motivated knowing that the direct outcome of their work aligns with their purpose and values. For example, an accountant driven by “purpose” likely values the feeling of lessening the burden of financial management for clients.


When individuals are motivated because the outcome of their work benefits their identity, enhancing their potential. For example, an accountant driven by “potential” might be motivated by the chance of someday earning their CPA or becoming a CFO.

Hopefully these three motives help you better understand what excites and motivates your employees and helps them do their best work, increasing engagement and retention. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to building great workplace culture, but with intentionality, it is possible for any organization to change or build the culture. Whatever your position or job title, you can help change the culture and drive performance. Organizations focused on building great culture will see performance and results excel, laying a solid basis for long-term success.

Schedule a free strategy session to figure out how we can help you build a workplace people love, starting with culture. 

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