Motivation systems

Andrey Nikishaev
Machine Learning World
7 min readAug 1, 2021


Today we will talk about motivation systems, where I want to show few ways of developing such in your company and their pros/cons.

Building motivation is not a simple task and many times in different companies I saw how motivation systems not only didn’t work but often making harm to an organization. So you should take it very seriously.

Motivation system — is not about bonuses, it’s about making win/win situations

And you should always have this in mind while building or supporting motivation programs in your company.

Step 1. Understand main principles

Every good motivation system should be:

  • Understandable. Simple and clear for understanding for all levels in another way it will exist only on paper.
  • Controllable. Have KPIs to measure the quality of the system.
  • Not limited. Control amount of money with a process not hard limit.
  • Automated. Maximum automation of the processes and minimal influence of people on the system. Basically Zero-Trust system.
  • Public. All people in the company should have access to achievement history to know their heroes and have the same information in their heads. When some information is blocked from people — they trying to imagine it. And if it’s about money — you will have problems.

Step 2. Understand your needs and possibilities

Each system needs time for development and integration, budget, dedicated team, resources, etc. So before start choosing the system you must build your requirements list. This will help you to find a system that has the best fit for your company, people and will help you not to lose your main target.

Step 3. Choose types of motivation that you want to use

There are 5 of them:

  • Removing demotivate factors from the company
  • Small gifts
  • Public promotion
  • Special privileges
  • Material motivation

Removing demotivate factors from the company

  • Pointless meetings
  • Bureaucracy
  • Ignoring live-balance and often overtimes
  • Shifts and work at night/weekends
  • Lack of voting rights
  • etc…

So this is the Environment building stage — a starting point for any motivation system and in most cases the cheapest one. But still, in the right hands, it gives great possibilities for employee retention and hiring by building a non-stressful and positive environment which in our days rare thing.

Small gifts

  • Quality clothes with proper branding. For example, you can give someone a cool leather jacket with cool graffiti under the company’s brand.
  • Some cool collectibles that everyone would like to collect.
  • Toys for children
  • etc..

Friendship stage — the main point of this is to create deeper relationships with your employees, by making some small interesting gifts for different things. That’s not about work proficiency but more about making people happy.

Public promotion

  • Celebrations in honor of best employees
  • Public disclosure of the merits of a person in a media of a company (FB, LinkedIn, Conferences, etc)
  • Public speaking of employees at conferences on behalf of the company
  • etc..

The publicity stage often scares many “managers”, because they think that in such a way other companies will lure good employees. But nowadays most of the good employees are public figures, and you can take this situation and make it help you or not.

The main idea here is to promote your company through the people in it. This gives much better results than through company profiles because people want to engage with people and not a company. That’s why hiring few bloggers today in most cases much better idea than place and advertisement.

And on another side to promote the company you promote people which gives them awesome motivation to work with you. As I said above — a win/win strategy.

Special privileges

  • Increased trust (for example, a person does not need sick leave when sick, or something like that)
  • Taxi to home
  • Loans with zero interest rate
  • Vacation without limit
  • etc..

Hook stage — where you add some additional privileges for people to more deeply link them to the company by creative positive hooks that may not exist on the market. The more you understand the pains of your employees here the better this will work.

For example, limit the working week to 4 days instead of 5 days can give 1 more day to be with children, and it will cost the company an additional $1k/month. Also on the market, there is a company that will add the same $1k to the salary of the employee for a 5 day week. How do you think these propositions are the same for a person?

Material motivation

  • Salary increase
  • New car, house, etc
  • Promotion
  • Chair at the company board
  • etc..

Business development stage — the simplest one and the hardest one. All people work for money, more money — people happier, yes? — Pity, but no. First of all, not all people are willing to forget about comfort in exchange for money. Money does not make people happy when they can’t spend them (That’s why Henry Ford added one more day off for his workers)

Another thing is when you pay the money you should clearly understand what profit this will give to you and create a very clear requirement for achieving this bonus, yeah we still need to win/win. That could be a really hard task for managers and company owners. And almost every company will fail here at least once.

Step 4. Build motivation system

Gathering all facts from above you start building your system from version to version, making demos for management and employees, trying to figure out the best fit for you.

Also, it is good to test the built system on some small departments before proceeding with the whole company.

Examples of motivation systems

Path-based gamified motivation system

This is a very deep and hard motivation system that is based on the idea that I took from the game Path of Exile, which I think created one of the greatest build systems ever.

The main idea here is to create development paths for employees that give you very deep and accurate stats to place the right people in the right place, which is a crucial thing for a fast-growing company.

Additionally, it creates everyday engagement with a system the same as in-game but helping to achieve real things. Basically, it’s your possible way of moving into the company.

To proceed in any direction you need to use points of different types. The whole graph consists of steps and breaking points. Each breaking point is some achievement that may give you the ability to choose the farther direction.

At the start, you have N sub-graphs that may be linked with each other. So, for example, you can proceed on 2 breaking points in the way of management, and 5 in development, which gives you the ability to choose the direction of a team lead.

This creates a radar chart for every employee, something like this:

Every task or action is estimated in these points, and on completion added to the employee profile. With each step, people are getting some bonuses.

To set points right you need to build some guide on how to do this right, in other cases, it will be a pain.


  • Simple and clear system from the employee side
  • Employees get a whole map for all positions in the company and can clearly understand what they need to do to get somewhere.
  • Most effective placement of people


  • Hard for implementation and support
  • Big team and amount of resources needed
  • Hard from the management side

Bounty system

One of the simplest but proven systems on the market.

The idea is very simple — employees make some hard or additional tasks and get some bonus. Every management level of the company creates their tasks based on a budget that they have, but every employee could try to solve the task at any level. Also, employees can form teams to solves big/hard tasks and share bonuses among themselves.

The additional bonus of such a system is that it separates people from those who want to work harder and those who don’t. So this gives a better understanding of how to form teams for critical/urgent projects.


  • Simple and clear system from the employee side
  • Don’t need any resources on integration, could be used on the next day
  • Simple to calculate bonuses for tasks


  • Could create social problems between workers in some cases if out of control of HR. Need to create some additional rules
  • Should create additional positions to audit tasks


A motivation system and good culture can build a strong core for your company on the way to success. But this does not come simple and fast and need and requires a thoughtful approach.

And always remember that you are building win/win situations because if you don’t then your company will lose money or employees.