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The Secret to Motivating Employees Toward Peak Performance

From time to time we are lucky enough to hire a shooting star, that one employee that is worth 5 or 10 regular players.  The holy grail, of course, is getting our regular players to perform like shooting stars.  Most of them are quite capable of reaching higher, but year after year they settle for being, well, regular.

The key to employees who are continuously motivated comes from three components:

  • Competence – belief that one has the ability to influence important outcomes
  • Autonomy – having a choice and fully endorsing what one is doing
  • Relatedness – having satisfying and supportive relationships

When all 3 components are at work, employees have higher levels of motivation and put forth more effort.

I am drawing from an impressive body of research from Deci and Ryan who have put their Self-Determination Theory (SDT) to the test in industries as varied as “business, education, sports, medicine, entertainment and leadership” (Stone, Deci & Ryan, p. 76, 2009).  The researchers offer the following six practices to creating the environment where continuous motivation will flourish

  1. Ask open questions and invite participation in problem solving
  2. Actively listen and acknowledge employee perspectives
  3. Offer choices within structure including the clarification of responsibilities
  4. Provide sincere, positive feedback that acknowledges initiative and factual, non- judgmental feedback about problems
  5. Minimize coercive controls such as rewards and comparisons with others
  6. Develop talent and share knowledge to enhance competence and autonomy (Stone, Deci & Ryan, p. 80, 2009)

I do not mean to trivialize how important or easy it would be to grow your culture towards continuous motivation, but the rewards are well worth the bumps along the way.


Stone, D., Deci, E., & Ryan, R. (2009). Beyond talk: Creating autonomous motivation through self-determination theory. Journal of General Management, 34(3), 75–91.