If you wish the people who work at your company were more enthusiastic about and committed to their work, you're probably not alone. According to Gallup, which surveyed more than 80,000 working adults last year, only 31.5 percent of U.S. workers were engaged in their jobs in 2014. How can business leaders positively affect this bleak number? You won't do it through extrinsic motivators, says Susan Fowler, author of Why Motivating People Doesn't Work...and What Doeswho has spent 15 years developing a research-based approach to motivation in business. Here's what she says you need to know about motivating employees.

Motivating employees does not work.

Many leaders believe that motivation can be quantified--people either have it or they don't. When it's deemed to be lacking, management often tries to make up the gap with incentives. In reality, however, everyone who works for your company is already motivated. They just may not be motivated in the way you desire. "So the question is about the quality of motivation that a person has, not the quantity," Fowler says. "And once you understand that distinction, it changes everything."

The leader's real role is to help employees understand and elevate their motivational outlooks.

For example, wouldn't it be better for your organization if a salesperson was motivated by a love of service, problem solving, and doing good work, as opposed to a desire to win a trip to the Bahamas? "The quality of the motivation really makes a difference in terms of a person's capacity to sustain positive energy, to their own mental well-being and physical health, [and] to creativity and innovation," says Fowler.

Elevating someone's motivational outlook involves three skills.

First, you need to identify a person's motivations, which means investing the time to figure out how he or she feels about things. "The biggest 'f' word in organizations today is feelings," Fowler says. Yet, when you ask people how they're feeling about an upcoming meeting or a goal they're working toward, you can help them understand how their feelings underlie their motivations.

Next, facilitate a shift to higher motivations. You want the person to realize that having a high-quality motivation feels good, which is self-perpetuating. "When basic needs like eating or drinking or sex are satiated, you're no longer motivated by them," Fowler says. "But psychological needs are just the opposite. The more they're satisfied, the more you want of them."

Finally, ask the person to reflect on how work and life are different after a shift in motivation. Just don't preface a conversation about motivation by praising an employee for how far he or she has come. Doing so would be imposing your values on the person instead of giving him or her the space to be authentic. "It's helping a person be mindful," Fowler says. "It's having people recognize what they are feeling, but to do that without judgment."

Published on: May 13, 2015