Engaging your employees is necessary, but if you want to supercharge their productivity, you'll need to truly inspire them

Eric Garton and Michael Mankins, partners at consulting firm Bain & Company, write in Harvard Business Review about the importance of inspiration in the workplace. "When they encounter a wall... satisfied employees hold a meeting to discuss what to do about walls. Engaged employees begin looking around for ladders to scale the wall. Inspired employees break right through it," Garton and Mankins write.

The productivity of inspired employees blows that of satisfied and engaged employees out of the water, according to research conducted by Bain and the Economist Intelligence Unit. In their study, satisfied employees were productive at an index level of 100, and engaged employees were at 144. Inspired employees, meanwhile, scored an impressive 225.

"From a purely quantitative perspective, in other words, it would take two and a quarter satisfied employees to generate the same output as one inspired employee," they write.

But you can't inspire employees until you complete what Garton and Mankins call the "pyramid of employee needs," which shows how to make sure your employees are first satisfied, then engaged. and finally inspired.

First, to make sure they are satisfied, you need to see that they work in a safe environment, have training and tools to get their jobs done, and are rewarded fairly. Engaged employees are those who are given autonomy over their jobs, learn and grow in their roles every day, and have a true impact within the company. And to inspire them, you have to connect your company's mission to what drives each individual and be an inspirational leader.

You should also see if your founding mission still rings true, which often is no longer the case as companies age. "At that point the corporate goal sometimes seems to be no grander than making enough money each quarter to keep Wall Street [or your board] happy--not exactly inspiring," the authors write.

If you're not inspiring your employees to their full potential, "you are leaving real money on the table," they add. 

As a leader, you can't be satisfied by just hitting sales goals. People work because they need money, but their identity is also tied to their craft. If you maintain a myopic focus on the bottom line, they will disengage. You need to be able both manage your employees to do the work that needs to get done and inspire them to do to work that is meaningful.

"All of us possess some of the qualities of inspiring leaders," Garton and Mankins write. "The secret is to help leaders build upon the strengths they currently have and shore up any qualities that may compromise their ability to inspire."