Motivating employees to go above and beyond

Here are 7 practices focused on creating the right environment for motivating employees to go above and beyond.

Demystifying employee motivation

In order to motivate employees to go above and beyond, we must first start with the question: What is motivation, to begin with?

7 practices for creating an environment for your team to motivate themselves

# 1: Define the observable behavior.

What do we want, as leaders? Yes, we want to be motivating our team to go above and beyond… but above and beyond what? What does “higher motivation” exactly mean?

#2: Play detective.

You know what you want… But what does your team want?

  • What project or part of your job do you feel most in your “flow state”? Why?
  • Which project do you most look forward to working on? Why?
  • When have felt most proud to have been a part of the organization? Why?
  • In your work life, what would you feel most deeply motivates you or feels most rewarding?

#3: Individualize everything.

Motivation is personal. What motivates your newest hire might not be what motivates someone who’s been on your team for a long time. Everyone’s source of motivation is different.

  • If a direct report is motivated by detailed work, switch your direct report to be focused on more detail-oriented initiatives, instead of creative projects.
  • If a direct report is motivated by having deep thinking time, move or cancel a video chat meeting so a direct report has more uninterrupted time to work.

#4: Stop surveillance. Give choice.

While you can’t always perfectly individualize and align someone’s project and goals with what they are most motivated by, you can create positive conditions for motivation by giving choice in what people can do. In Edward Deci’s formative book on human motivation theory, Why We Do What We Do, he describes how “meaningful choice engenders willingness” and results in a higher quality of decisions, and greater motivation and commitment to the task, shown from research he’s done over 20 years.

  • Instead of imposing when the exact deadline should be for a project, give choice by asking, “What deadline do you think makes the most sense, given the context of this project?”
  • Instead of assigning a direct report a set of goals, invite them to participate in the formation of those goals so they have a choice in goals set.

#5: Highlight progress — efficiently and meaningfully.

What makes for a “great day at work”?

#6: Go big on a “picture of a better place.”

We’ve discussed how to create conditions for your team to feel motivated… But what is it that we want our team to feel motivated about? There must be some ultimate outcome, some culminating end state that is compelling and animating your team to feel excited in the first place, and motivating employees to go above and beyond.

#7: Clarify expectations. (It’s never too clear.)

We all recognize the importance of setting clear expectations as leaders. And yet, according to a 2017 survey by Gallup, only 50% of employees clearly know what is expected of them at work. Furthermore, only 26% of employees strongly agree that their manager continually helps them clarify priorities.

  • Is it clear why the project matters?
  • Is it clear why the level of urgency around the project exists?
  • Is it clear what “success” for this project looks like?
  • Is it clear what external factors the team should consider in order to successfully execute this project?



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Claire Lew

CEO of Know Your Team ( My life’s mission is to help people become happier at work.