Guess What Motivates Your Employees?

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Guess What Motivates Your Employees?

Financial targets have been the mainstay of employee goals in business for decades now, so it’s no surprise that they continue to be used. In some industries and for some job roles, financial targets make sense. In sales, for example, having a goalpost sales number can be a good way to measure employee performance, as well as have clear milestones for any further incentives.

However, that’s not to say that financial targets are motivating for every single employee and, in some cases, can directly lead to vast consequences if they’re the only thing you’re using to measure performance [1]. As an increasing number of studies shows, emphasising financial targets as a method of measuring performance doesn’t just erode employee morale, but it can actually undermine your long-term business strategy [2]. Even if financial targets worked for your employees before, it’s time to rethink your strategy.

If you’re working in a business that has used financial targets to measure and inspire employee performance for a while, it’s understandable that you might be confused about the alternatives.


What Do Employees Find Motivating?


Before you learn about those alternatives, you need to understand what motivates employees to perform well.

Of course, it’s entirely possible that some of your employees will be driven to succeed by financial targets, particularly when they’re working in sales or marketing. However, it’s not always the case.

Some employees may be driven to reach performance goals simply because they want to keep their salary and benefits, and this shouldn’t be surprising in today’s competitive labour market. While these employees aren’t the most likely to perform at an above-average level, they’re the easiest to lose when the benefits of the job begin to outweigh the stress they experience.

Other employees are driven by their job giving them a sense of purpose and meaning [3]. These employees will often be those with the best levels of performance as they connect their job with their own moral compass. However, when employees who are driven in this way don’t get this motivating factor, they’ll often leave in search of a new career. To these employees, financial targets rarely have the motivating factor you’re looking for.

It’s also important to understand that not all of your employees want to stay in the same job role forever, and what motivates them is career progression and promotion opportunities. In job roles that directly generate revenue, financial information can be a marker of someone’s productivity, but giving these employees financial goals to meet can often seem disconnected with their goal of furthering their career.

How to Motivate Employees Without Financial Targets

1. Change Your Focus

The language your company and managers use with your employees will always translate into financial results through how it influences their mindset, which in turn will influence how they behave at work.

If your company focuses on financial success in its communications, this will inevitably trickle down into managers talking about how their employees’ performance affects financial results. More often than not, this results in managers giving employees financial targets to hit.

That’s not to say that talking about financial performance isn’t important, as companies need to be financially sound to continue running. Instead, companies should make sure that their financial results aren’t the only focus when they talk to their employees.

For example, a recent study [4] found that when employees learned about how the work of their team impacted outside individuals, those employees solicited more high-value donations than their counterparts in the control group.

With that in mind, companies should start talking to their employees about the real-world impact their work is having on customers and other team members to demonstrate that their work has value outside of its financial worth.

2. Implement Non-Financial Goals

Employee goals make up a significant part of employee engagement strategies, so this article isn’t suggesting to stop using targets altogether. Rather, companies and managers should understand what each job role needs to focus on.

As discussed earlier, not every job role will be able to directly translate their work with financial outcomes, so more often than not, financial targets aren’t appropriate. However, other targets, like customer satisfaction scores, call resolution rates, or even project deadlines can be just as motivating without reducing your employees’ work to a financial metric.

It’s also worth considering whether your employees need these performance-related goals at all, or if you could implement other goals like taking courses, improving confidence, or learning a new skill.

Depending on what your employees are motivated by, these less measurable goals can be more inspiring than performance-related metrics. So, your employees may meet goals that you have set for them without them actively working towards it.

3. Understand What Employees Need to Know

As a manager, it’s often tempting to share financial results with your employees, even if you work in an area that doesn’t directly generate revenue. While this is usually a well-intentioned way of keeping employees in the loop, it can also shift their mindset towards the perspective of financial performance being the only thing that matters.

As a leader, it’s your responsibility to direct the focus of your team. If your team is focused on a project, and that focus is interrupted with financial news about the company, then it can take focus away from the task at hand.

So, if employees don’t necessarily need to know the company’s financial standings as soon as there’s news, team leaders should consider updating their employees on a specific day, or during a catch-up meeting designated for the sharing of company-wide news.


Because all of your employees will be motivated by different things, the best thing you can do is to ask them what they think improves their productivity and outlook at work.

Qualee’s platform gives employees the ability to provide honest feedback and delivers actionable insights that can help you understand what motivates your employees in the workplace. Create a positive and productive culture with Qualee and sign up for our FREE Starter Plan today.

[1] https://www.wsj.com/articles/wells-fargos-questionable-cross-selling-strategy-1473444334
[2] https://hbr.org/2019/09/dont-let-metrics-undermine-your-business
[3] https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/think-your-job-meaningless-again-alistair-cox/
[4] https://knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu/article/putting-a-face-to-a-name-the-art-of-motivating-employees/

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