Steve Jobs talked about making insanely great things. Forget the insanity part as hyperbole for a moment. What entrepreneur wouldn't want a great business model? Name a single leader in a corporation who doesn't want great performance?

But leadership is tough. You can't walk around and do everything yourself, even if you had all the skills, which you don't. To have something great, you have to harness greatness for all the other people in the organization. But how do you get the best work from others?

According to research from the Cicero Group, sponsored by the O.C. Tanner Institute, it's a matter of learning how to motivate others.

There's some good news. This study reinforces what others have said in the past and the best answer is probably one of the cheapest ones possible. But first, let's look at how Cicero defines great work, which is "instances that go beyond daily, pedestrian tasks."

That makes sense. If everyone in the organization is going to muddle along, doing exactly what is expected (or, sadly, sometimes less), greatness will always remain out of your grasp. To get great work, you need people who are capable of it and who want to do it. You take care of the first part by hiring and training smart. Still, not everyone will make the cut. According to the survey, only 5 percent of the sample of 980 responders consistently performed great work, and they're the ones who can make a big different in the organization.

As for the motivation, put away your checkbook. What motivates the people who consistently do great work is recognition. The most frequently mentioned driver by the 5 percent was recognition. It was mentioned by 37 percent. Another 13 percent said they were self-motivated, 12 percent wanted to be inspired by management, and 12 percent sought more autonomy. Getting paid more was in fifth place and mentioned by only 7 percent of the employees.

According to Cicero, many companies focus on perks, bonuses, and other approaches to driving great work, but what they offer has the least value for the people who are capable of the desired performance level. Companies that maintained an excellent recognition practice had the highest impact on increasing great work.

So forget beefing up the perks and elaborate bennies. Find ways to publicly let people who matter know that they are appreciated. You'll be glad you did.

Published on: May 6, 2015
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