How to keep employees performing at their best

When you think about it, the internal success of any company comes down to it’s people. Problem solving, innovation, grit, productivity and sales performance all depend on how happy, engaged and committed employees are.

Everyone knows that hiring is one of the most important aspects to building a successful team, but just because you’ve hired A-grade employees, doesn’t mean they’ll perform well when they’re in their new role. employees go through various life stages, are motivated in different ways and perform differently in different environments.

Despite the widespread impression that salary motivates employees, the reality is, everyone has differing drivers for motivation – and in most cases, it’s not actually money. Some people value certainty, some people value variety, some value significance, and others value connection. All of us value and need all of these in our lives, but how we prioritise each of these direct our lives in a very different way.

Learn how they’re motivated

Rather than trying to force employees to perform, motivate them by understanding what inspires motivation in them. Use what works for them.

There are two categories in which motivation falls into:

  1. Intrinsic motivation
  2. Extrinsic motivation

Intrinsic motivation

Intrinsic motivation is the internal drive to do something for your own interest or enjoyment. Examples of this typically involve sports, games or other activities that you enjoy for the sake of doing them, rather than the sake of being rewarded for them, or encouraged to do so.

Extrinsic motivation

Extrinsic motivation on the other hand, is when you’re motivated to do (or not do) something for the external reward or the avoidance of punishment (or pain). Extrinsic motivators on the positive side are things such as recognition, fame or fortune. On the negative side, they are deadlines, embarrassment, fear and judgement.

Using intrinsic and extrinsic motivation

Both intrinsic and extrinsic motivational factors are important to influencing yourself, your employees, and your customers. What’s important to understand however, is that there are both positive and negative relationships between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation.

The positive side of extrinsic motivation

On the positive side of extrinsic motivation, lies the ability to help people to push past a fear or uncertainty of something to broaden their horizons or achieve a new skill. It can also help to motivate people in scenarios where intrinsic motivation is low, and the task is mundane.

The negative side of extrinsic motivation

On the negative side of extrinsic motivation, lies the downfall of the overjustification effect in certain scenarios, and empty outcomes. If for example, you started a task based on intrinsic motivation, are then rewarded extrinsically, and the extrinsic rewards are reduced or removed, your motivation will be lost, and you’ll no longer be able to return to being intrinsically motivated by the task.

In addition to this, extrinsic motivation used as a main driver without meaning behind the work leads to an ‘empty feeling’ shortly after achieving the goal, with motivation slumping until a new goal is adopted.

This means that if you choose to reward employees with extrinsic motivation, you could potentially be setting them up to become demotivated if the reward ceases (despite originally being intrinsically motivated by the task), or is achieved without a new realistic one being set.

The positive side of intrinsic motivation

On the positive side of intrinsic motivation, is that it’s very powerful. Intrinsic motivation gives you the ability to persist and achieve mastery. It can be long lasting and self sustaining, helping you to accomplish amazing things.

The negative side of intrinsic motivation

On the negative side of intrinsic motivation, lies a cautious and sometimes lengthy preparation in order to achieve something. If the task isn’t interesting, or developing new skills, extrinsic motivation can help.

Intrinsic vs Extrinsic motivation in hiring

When hiring employees, consider the environment you want to build, the work that needs to be done and your business model. If you’re looking for higher skilled workers, with low turnover and sustainable growth, it’s best to seek those who are intrinsically motivated to do their work.

If your work involves menial tasks, it may be better to seek those who have a mixture, or lean more towards extrinsic motivation, trying to show meaning in the work they do and building up their sense of intrinsic motivation.

Examples of intrinsic vs Extrinsic motivations

Many different workplaces and managers offer different kinds of motivation. Here is a basic guide to seeing which category methods fall into:


  • Culture
  • Purpose/mission/vision
  • Autonomy
  • Praise
  • Fulfillment
  • Engagement
  • Personal/professional development
  • Work/life balance
  • Opportunity to impact
  • Leadership (not in the sense of power or prestige)


  • Compensation
    • base pay
    • incentive plans
    • commissions
    • LTI
    • spot bonus
    • other bonus
    • non-cash incentives
  • Tools
  • Benefits
  • Rewards
  • Recognition

Use their skills

As the old saying goes “what you don’t use, you lose”. If you want to keep your team performing at their best, they need to be using their skills on a regular basis. Just like training in sport, the more regular and precise you practice the better you get (without burnout obviously).

Keep your employees using their skills on a regular basis, and give them new challenges or learnings to keep them engaged and refining their skills.

If you give them training, ensure that the new learnings are implemented straight away. This helps to set it to long term memory and develop a new habit from what they’ve learnt.

Keep them challenged

If employees reach their potential and don’t have inspiration to grow, they’ll flounder and become complacent. To keep them performing work with them to set new challenges, and keep them growing. Work out what their strengths and weaknesses are, what their interests are, what direction they want their career to go in, and how you can help them to get there.

Whatever you do, don’t set menial, insignificant or unrealistic challenges for them, as you’ll insult their intelligence and have the opposite effect. If you care about your employees, are open and honest, you’ll get the best out of them.

Give them ownership

Whether it’s a task, project or the business overall, the best performing employees are those that take ownership of their work and the results they get. This means allocating someone to the job, giving them the resources they need, then giving them the autonomy to get the job done.

If you’re not confident in their skills, start them off on a smaller project, give feedback, gain trust and built it up. If you need to micromanage employees, either you or they aren’t doing the right thing – and it’s more likely to be you.

Just like doing weights at the gym, the only way your people will develop is if you put weight on them. If you don’t give people ownership and let them see the repercussions and rewards for what they’re doing – if you’re always interfering in what they do – you’ll never develop superstar employees.

Encourage them

Everyone needs feedback once in awhile. Regardless of whether employees are high performing or underperforming, regular feedback and encouragement helps to keep people engaged and on the right track.

No matter what the situation is, do your best to avoid being short, or criticising employees. It doesn’t help to solve the situation and it only builds resentment. Instead, explain situation, discuss like adults and focus on the solution. People want to do the right thing, if you do the right thing by them.

Give them visibility

Without a target, it makes it very difficult to hit the bullseye. If employees don’t have visibility in the direction of the business, and what everyone is doing, they’ll lack the insight to see how their work impacts the business and those around them.

Keep your employees informed as to what direction the company is going in, what challenges you’re facing, what changes are happening and what’s exciting. You don’t need to tell your employees every little detail, but generally, the more you keep people informed, the more ownership they’ll feel over your business.

Provide mentors & connections

Any professional sportsperson has a mentor or coach. Top performing employees want to cover their blind spots, get career advice and guidance from people they admire or who hold positions they want to obtain.

If you can, introduce people to senior members of your company. If not, try to get them involved in industry events or groups and make connections for them to grow.

Provide growth pathways

Not every employee is going to proactively discuss their career path with you. If you want top performers to stay with your company, you need to provide them with ways they can grow their career and life.

That means working with them to work out how they’ll progress in their career, what they want to do, how they want to see their life with the company and more.

Do the above and you’ll not only keep your team performing at their best, but you’ll also save a bunch of money on losing employees.

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