When COVID-19 threw a spanner into the well-planned, conventional training and development workshops at healthcare major Kaiser Permanente, they knew they needed to do something different. The finance division had over 3000 employees. It wasn’t just about continuing the training but keeping the teams charged and excited about their jobs. But without the buzz of a leader’s charisma, how would they keep their teams motivated?

An incentive is anything that motivates, and it can be more than a price tag.  External rewards are delightful, but applying ourselves to a task we find enjoyable is a unique kind of fulfilment.

Each of us have different motivators – some internal and some external. While organizations and HR departments acknowledge this, efforts at understanding these motivators – and their differentiation – often drops down on the priority list in the midst of routine tasks. But when done right, it gives managers vital information about people, what makes them tick, and what jobs or roles they find intrinsically fulfilling. Visionary managers can even leverage this to help their team choose roles that align with their personality traits for fulfilling career lives.

Think of ‘Chatty Margaret’, a highly people-focused person with an eye for detail. Margaret works in underwriting and feels occasional pangs of discontent. Conversely, ‘Shy Mark’, who likes quiet task-based jobs, is positioned in a customer-facing role because he’s a product whiz. The financial incentives needed to keep Margaret and Mark happy with their jobs will be quite steep. Now flip these roles and consider the immediate change as they both find conducive career paths that support their personalities with job profiles that they find intrinsically rewarding.

Understanding personal motivations can be a huge boon for businesses that make the effort.

In the example of Kaiser, the company’s Finance Leadership Institute decided to use a battery of motivator tests to get to know their teams even better than before!

The tests were delivered virtually and aimed at discovering the core motivators of each team member. Once the results came in, the leaders got to work. They were able to unpack motivational synergies, cautions, and uniqueness. Employee engagement skyrocketed reaching an all-time high. Over 500 leaders were able to effectively reconnect with their teams, despite being physically remote. Workplace stress and anxiety dropped by 30%.

Unpacking personal motivators can help managers improve employee engagement and workplace satisfaction. They can find better ways to upskill or reskill unhappy team members. They can devise simple but effective programs that map not only to fulfilling careers for employees, but also better business outcomes. For instance, shifting the focus from merely hitting a sales target for a monetary reward to a competition for the highest sales instantly motivates those who have an internal competitive streak. Here, the incentive isn’t the external reward (money), but the internal thrill of having won a race.

In the words of Homer Rice, “You can motivate by fear and you can motivate by reward. But both those methods are only temporary. The only lasting thing is self-motivation.”

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