Finding ways to spur innovation is right at the top of most leaders’ priority lists. So we’re just going to come right out and say it: the secret to unleashing innovation is to stoke individuals’ motivation.

Motivated people have quite literally changed the world, finding solutions to some of the most challenging problems in the world like disease and famine. But more recently, alarming figures have emerged that suggest something has gone wrong with people’s motivation, with only about one-third of employees saying they feel highly engaged.

These figures suggest that many possibly life-changing innovations are remaining locked away in people’s minds. So while it may be easy to say that motivation is the secret to innovation, the question is, how do organisations unlock latent drive?

In our new report, we look at the three key factors that are sapping motivation – rapid tech disruptions, antiquated corporate structures and a rise in employee stress – and provide the roadmap to spark employees’ spirits.

Not all motivation is created equal

Motivation is a tricky beast. As an umbrella term it covers both intrinsic motivation – the drive that comes from within – and extrinsic motivation – the carrot-and-stick type motivation that comes from external forces.

While both forms of motivation have their place, intrinsic motivation trumps extrinsic motivation when it comes to performance. Our data shows that 76% of employees who feel intrinsically motivated exceed performance expectations, compared to 60% of those who feel extrinsically motivated.

The Netflix formula for targeting intrinsic motivation

The key to fuelling intrinsic motivation is to satisfy humans’ basic needs for autonomy and purpose. It means providing opportunities to make contributions through increased independence, skills and confidence.

What this looks like in practice is summed up in former Netflix Chief Talent Officer Patty McCord’s manifesto: Netflix Culture: Freedom and Responsibility. Organisations need to create a culture that puts trust and high expectations ahead of bureaucracy. The aim is to attract “fully formed adults” who are ready for autonomy and responsibility, who can apply the judgment necessary to adhere to Netflix’s “act in Netflix’s best interests” approach to policies.

While this approach may seem extreme to many, the underlying philosophy is sound: attract the right people, give them trust and freedom and they will reward you with performance.

The motivation killer: stress

There’s one particular external force working strongly against motivation: stress. It clogs up our thinking, negatively impacting our ability to problem solve and contributes to feelings of anxiety and worry. And it’s on the rise, with stress levels increasing nearly 20% in the US between 1989 and 2015.

One of the major culprits is technology. That thing that’s supposed to make our lives easier can feel threatening – in the form of AI advances – or overwhelming, in the case of ever-present smartphones.

The fact is, technology is here to stay and the pace of change will continue to accelerate. Instead, individuals and organisations have to adapt in order to thrive.

It takes two to motivate

All this can feel insurmountable but, while we can’t say it will be easy, it’s certainly possible and indeed essential to reignite motivation. Doing so requires both organisations and individuals to change.

It's possible to reignite motivation but doing so requires both organisations and individuals to change. Click To Tweet

For individuals:

  • Be mindful of stress triggers
  • Connect with your core purpose and find ways to align this to your work
  • Disrupt yourself by seeking new experiences and taking risks

For organisations:

  • Define the firm’s purpose beyond financial gains and then walk the walk
  • Develop a new type of leader who creates the conditions for learning and creativity to flourish
  • Create empowering environments by removing silos and fostering accountability

The stakes behind today’s battle for motivation could not be greater: the conditions for tomorrow’s innovations must be created today.

To learn more, download The Case for Motivation: What’s Sapping It, What Will Bring it Back

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About Contributor

Brent is an expert in measurement-driven organisational change, employee engagement, and human capital strategy. He has worked with senior teams in 20 countries and 5 continents to design customised measurement systems, diagnose issues, and develop strategies for improving organisational performance.