Motivation Strategy for Achieving a High Performance Organization

Motivation is an organization's life-blood; yet "motivation," as a business subject, is largely ignored. Even when not ignored, it certainly is not a focal point for strategic thinking.

Seldom is a clear, coherent, and overall approach taken to the challenge of motivating people. Most organizations don't give it much thought until something starts to go wrong. Pain gets people's attention.

Four reasons explain this fact of life:

  1. Motivation is intangible.
  2. Motivation drives all human action. It is the energy source. Those seeking to shape the behavior ultimately wrestle with motivation.
  3. With a bit of work, we can intuit our own motivation and monitorits shifting nature and intensity. But we can only observe and measure the motivation of others indirectly.
  4. Motivation is lost in a twilight zone.

Like a pop-up fly ball which drops to the ground between a couple of confused fielders, motivation can fall into cracks. Everyone has an interest in motivation, but few, if any, know who is responsible for mapping the overall game plan.

Motivation is hidden beneath a slew of disconnected plans and initiatives

One department may buy or invent a passel of programs or special initiatives -- such as bonus plans, leadership training, participative management and employee ownership that are meant to improve employee motivation. But in most companies, these programs and initiatives are implemented as the need is felt or the impulse strikes.

Motivation, as a subject, is lost in the hoopla of fads du jour

From time to time, management becomes enamored with an idea that is trumpeted by consultants. The idea usually has merit, but is never the 'silver bullet' that people expect it to be: a one-size-fits all solution to every management woe. As the "new idea" (often old wine in new bottles) captures attention, the hype ignites enthusiasm. In time, expectations far outdistance anything the "idea" can deliver. Disillusionment sets in; the fad fades fast, and motivation wanes.

First and FOREMOST

We need a dramatically different approach to motivation. Our approach, FOREMOST™, is a strategy-driven conceptual process, created to motivate the total organization. FOREMOST™ is guided by two principles:

  1. Consideration of the needs and resources of the whole organization. In contrast to limited, fragmented, flash-in-the-pan initiatives, FOREMOST™ evaluates the total organization and, applying strategic thinking, considers coherent, global and creative options for aligning individual motivation with the business strategy and goals.
  2. Consideration of ALL factors influencing employee motivation.

FOREMOST™ encompasses everything an organization to do to influence the individual and team effort, creativity, perseverance, goal-oriented performance and achievement.

Employee motivation is enhanced most when organizations creatively and appropriately employ a multitude of motivators. We've profiled 10 areas that powerfully impact motivation.

Economic Rewards

Money is a primary motivator. While base salary remains the largest share of the total cash pie, cash incentive plans continue to grow in popularity. Special achievement incentive rewards, spot bonuses, and cash-equivalent rewards all play a role in the economic reward package. In many companies, stock-based incentive plans, once limited to top executives, are offered to all employees. We are seeing an explosion of creative ideas in the realm of economic rewards, although not all approaches motivate people.

Promotions and Transfers

While having economic value, promotions also carry crucial social and psychological meaning (recognition and sense of accomplishment) that, for many, far outweigh additional money or perquisites.

Formal, Psychic Rewards

These rewards have symbolic significance. They spotlight individual or team achievement and outstanding contribution, giving people high-visibility recognition that tends to be warmly remembered years after the event.

Informal Psychic Rewards

Positive feedback from a person's manager, peers, subordinates and others has a profound impact on motivation. Such informal psychic rewards are more than after-the-fact reinforcement; they are also an incentive that people seek to feel appreciated for what we do and who we are -- our unique abilities, skills and knowledge.

Opportunity to Grow

The chance to improve one's self is an enormously important source of motivation. Organizations that offer this advantage are in a win-win partnership with their employees. The company creates and maintains a talented workforce to use as a competitive weapon, and the employees sharpen their own competitive edge as they self-actualize. Talk about synergy!


Leaders inspire people through their words and actions. By presenting a clear sense of purpose, offering a vision worth striving toward, and providing encouragement, leaders have the power to imbue people with hope, enthusiasm and determination.


Goals are powerful motivators. Goals give people a clear sense of what is expected of them, offering challenge and opportunity. They can energize and inspire exceptional effort.

Challenging and stimulating work

The nature of work as a source of motivation varies with personality. For some, detailed work involving technical tasks can be a turn-on; for others, fast-paced work with changing goals, roles and challenges is their dream job. But whatever the person-job match, the work itself proves every bit as important a motivator as economic rewards.


Freedom to take action, to make decisions, to work independently, is one of the factors most valued by people. Autonomy is crucial to achieving a sense of self-worth. Autonomy strongly influences the decision of individuals to join and stay with an organization.


Many work places are woefully devoid of smiles and laughter, yet a bit of humor goes a long way toward brightening the day and infusing spirit into the culture. Fun plays a vital role in motivation.

Implementing FOREMOST™ requires a top management team to outline the motivation strategy. Human resources plays a key role by facilitating the process and providing technical guidance.

The process of implementation begins with an audit of all programs that have a direct bearing on motivation. Audit findings are compared with the organization1s needs, expectations and goals. Problem areas are identified and a plan of action is developed. The plan presents a strategic approach to motivating the total organization and draws upon the options that can be mobilized.

FOREMOST™ is a process that involves continual learning, constant innovation, and agile adaptation to ever-changing business realities. It also demands clarity of purpose, perspective, and perseverance. Eventually, FOREMOST™ becomes part of business planning. As this strategic approach to motivation takes root, a new synergystic management mind-set emerges.

Organizations are seeking ways to beat the competition and be profitable. Nothing is more critical to this goal than human energy - a strategic approach to motivating the total organization.


Originally published in the July, 1999 edition of Executive Excellence: The Magazine of Leadership Development, Managerial Effectiveness, and Organizational Productivity