How to keep your employees motivated always

Strict performance goals cause negative effects in your business. Instead, provide staff goals that revolve around how well the employee has mastered his or her job and the industry.  Photo/FILE
Strict performance goals cause negative effects in your business. Instead, provide staff goals that revolve around how well the employee has mastered his or her job and the industry. Photo/FILE 

Kiprotich leaned back at his desk. He finally made it to the COO position in one of Kenya’s fastest growing venture capital firms. Looking around his new office, he felt a sense of accomplishment, hope, but also apprehension at the upcoming challenges facing him and the firm.

In fact, Kiprotich received his promotion in large part due to his predecessor’s failure to motivate employees at the expanding organisation. The lack of employee motivation impacted entity profits negatively.

So, Kiprotich pondered his next moves in the post and how he would motivate the staff in new and innovative ways. Luckily, he realised that Kenya hosts a small and increasing body of organisational behaviour and organisational development professionals who deal specifically with such matters.

Here at USIU and the Business Daily, in the next Business Talk weekly series, we endeavour to provide you nine weeks that address various organisational behaviour issues to enhance your employee’s satisfaction and your firm’s performance.


In as much, let us commence the series with an issue every manager faces: employee motivation. Many more traditional managers often think of motivating their staff simply from the salary paid out. However, modern research shows that monetary remuneration does not provide the best incentives for improved performance.

We begin with the basics of every human being’s motivation. You may recall from your undergraduate studies the concepts surrounding the hierarchy of needs.

Abraham Maslow pioneered his five stages of needs way back in 1954. Every person first requires his or her physiological needs met, such as food and shelter. Second, people need security. Those living in Kibera or Mathare remain keenly aware and acutely concerned for their safety in ways the middle and upper classes cannot even imagine.

Thirdly, once humans feel secure, then they primarily need belongingness. Belongingness comes in various forms, from church affiliation to community groups to political activism. Thereafter, people need esteem through job promotion, new cars, or other measures unique to each person as the fourth stage. Fifth and finally, humans reach the self-actualisation stage whereby they ponder the meaning of life, their place in the world, challenge sacred texts taken for granted, or challenge accepted prejudices in society.

So take a few moments and think about which level your employees’ needs reside. If employing recent refugees, then such individuals’ primary need would revolve around the first stage of physiology needs. Providing a generous housing allowance to recent refugees could act as the most powerful motivator.

Low income earners such as cleaners and guards likely need the security of stage two the most. Therefore, monetary rewards motivate powerfully in the third stage.

A CEO of a bank or a professor hopefully fall into the fourth or fifth stages of needs since satisfying their earlier requirements. Motivating individuals in the fourth and fifth stages moves beyond money and more personal characteristics of life and the job become the most important.

In fact, research conducted by Dr Ariely and team, among others, show that when your employees’ basic needs get met and the jobs require even very basic thinking skills or higher, then paying bonuses for higher performance as a method of providing the employee with more money actually causes that employee to perform worse. Business leaders often fail to understand such shocking results.

Scientists warily watch the business world baffled by the concepts that science proved wrong, but still exist as common managerial practices. As stated before in Business Talk, there exists a disconnect between what science knows and what businesses actually do.

If you have the time, watch Daniel Pink’s TED Talk discuss some employee motivation and research basics on

So, as a good manager, you should ask yourself: “if money as a reward for good work makes employees work inferiorly, then what in the world does work!?” The answer may surprise you.

Employees work optimally when employment conditions allow: autonomy, purpose, and the ability to master a profession.

As a manager, the three conditions should lead you to first, not micromanage your staff. Give them the freedom to make decisions and take responsibility. Next, create job descriptions that provide your workers a sense of purpose and meaning.

Finally, professional employees must grow in their knowledge and specialisation in the job and broader industry. Failure to provide these employee conditions leads managers to fail at higher rates. However, remember that guards or cleaners do not require the conditions since their needs exist more basic as the struggle to provide security, homes, and food outweigh other needs possibilities.

Now watch out. In response to the above knowledge, many managers overreact and become obsessed with goal setting. A manager could set too many goals on the number of phone calls to pick up per hour, emails to type, speeches to give, or whatever. However, Harvard University researcher, Max Bazerman, discovered that strict performance goals also cause negative effects in your business. Instead, provide employee goals that revolve around how well the employee has mastered his or her job and the industry.

In summary, understand what motivates your employees so you may better lead your organisation’s performance. Do not fail like Kiprotich’s predecessor did.

Prof Bellows serves as the Director of the New Economy Venture Accelerator (NEVA) at USIU’s Chandaria School of Business and Colorado State University,, and may be reached on: [email protected] or follow on Twitter: @ScottProfessor.