Q: How can I incentivize my employees to produce more?

Anthony Mancuso, Owner
Home Inspector Experts

A: Employee performance is generally a function of ability, opportunity and motivation. The first thing you should do is determine which of these factors are contributing to the poor performance. If people have been able to perform well in the past, and the job requirements or context have not materially changed, then a lack of motivation may be the culprit.

Motivation can be thwarted in many ways. Fortunately, the research provides some great tools for diagnosing and improving motivation. Two of the most useful of these involve setting effective goals and stimulating people's intrinsic drive to do things because they matter. A popular acronym related to goal setting is the S.M.A.R.T. goal. These are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time bound. One other thing I would add is getting employees involved in the goal-setting process. When employees help set their own goals, they will be more committed to their achievement.

Many of the jobs in contemporary organizations have processes and outcomes that are ambiguous and dynamic. In these situations, it may make more sense to focus on intrinsic motivation.

Intrinsic motivation involves people doing an activity because they find it interesting and derive satisfaction from the activity itself. Of course, people should be paid fairly and given praise, but beyond this, three factors are consistently shown to drive intrinsic motivation: autonomy, mastery and purpose. Autonomy involves giving people more control over how they do their work. Mastery involves helping people continually develop their skills. And purpose involves doing an activity that is in the service of something larger than themselves.

Although human performance and motivation is much more complex than can be fully addressed in this short article, I believe the ideas presented here provide a good place to start. Get your employees involved in the process, set effective goals and focus on the factors that drive intrinsic motivation. If you do this, you will likely see meaningful improvements in their performance.

Chad Brinsfield is an associate professor of management at the University of St. Thomas Opus College of Business.