5 Internal Motivators that Drive Employee Performance

strategy Sep 20, 2023
By: Brooke M. Dukes

What's the most important “X factor” to peak employee performance?

Internal Motivation.

Motivation is the driving force behind our actions — why we do anything. It’s the process that initiates, guides, and maintains goal-oriented behaviors. External, or extrinsic motivation comes from outside of the individual and often involves getting something in return, such as trophies, money, social recognition, or praise. Internal, or intrinsic motivation comes within oneself where the reward is receiving personal pleasure or gratification.

The most successful people in the world are internally motivated. The source of their certainty is inside themselves and independent from any external circumstances. Internally motivated people are self-starters who are essentially driven by their own internal compass. No matter what is happening around them, they always have a sense of where they’re going and what needs to be done. Externally motivated people, on the other hand, tend to wait for someone or something outside of themselves to direct their path of action.

One way to tell if you’re internally or externally motivated is to consider how you feel about control. Externally motivated people use control to maintain a sense of stability or security. The problem is, there is a constant stress management underway because the only real control you have is the way you respond to the things that are happening around you. Controlling the way you respond to situations (rather than trying to control the situation itself) is just another way to describe taking responsibility, or your ability to respond. Internally motivated people recognize that they cannot control the people or circumstances in their life, and they don’t rely on others to do what they can do themselves. They do their best to influence people and situations, then move on from there.

When internal motivators are introduced to the workplace, employees start to see their work as more meaningful and they become more eager and willing to learn and contribute. As a result, business performance improves, quickly and measurably.

Here are five specific internal motivators that have the most impact on employee performance:

  1. Autonomy - “I control my response.”
    1. It’s important to people to feel like they have a choice regarding their participation and how they contribute.
  2. Mastery - “I improve.”
    1. Getting better at things is satisfying on a number of fronts. For some employees, it means the job gets easier. For others, it brings the psyche emotional and possibly financial rewards that come from doing something that a) couldn’t be done before and b) not everyone else can do.
  3. Purpose - “I make a difference.”
    1. Every employee wants to feel like they’re making a difference and that their efforts and accomplishments have meaning.
  4. Progress - “I achieve.”
    1. People respond well when they see that they are making progress on a goal - something they care about - whether in the workplace or in life.
  5. Social Interaction - “I connect with others.”
    1. Humans are innately social creatures, desiring to connect, interact, affiliate, care, and share with one another.

Understanding and implementing internal motivators can help increase employee efficiency, help them more powerfully respond to external circumstances, and improve their overall well-being and happiness on the job.

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