Tapping into Intrinsic Motivation to Unlock Performance


In a world of incentives, bonuses, and rewards, intrinsic motivation often takes a back seat. These ‘extrinsic’ factors are seen as a key to motivating people to succeed. As a leader, you may believe that unless there is some tangible benefit, people may not be motivated to deliver results. 

That is partially true, but the fact also remains that in the absence of intrinsic motivation, it is impossible to fuel performance, creativity, and personal growth for people. For example, in a sports team, a highly paid athlete may often crave something more than just a fat paycheck.

A deeper understanding of intrinsic motivation helps in creating a workforce experience (Wx) that motivates people to perform to their best.

But, what is intrinsic motivation?

Intrinsic motivation is an internal push, a drive that makes us engage in different activities for the joy that we obtain from completing them. It is a self-sustaining and completely internal force, which inspires us towards achieving high performance.

Why is intrinsic motivation important?

Relying on intrinsic motivation for high performance brings many benefits to you as a leader:

  1. Purposeful work: Aligning your people with a larger purpose and the bigger picture can help them unlock their true potential and elevate their performance.
  2. Higher innovation: Intrinsically motivated people are more likely to experiment and be open to trying again after failure and keep thinking ‘outside the box’.
  3. Sustainability: Unlike extrinsic motivational factors, there is no dependence on constant ‘nudges’ to improve performance. Hence, intrinsic motivation is more reliable and sustainable for longer-term success.
  4. Resilience: People bounce back from failures and setbacks better. Their motivation is anchored in the task and not an external reward, whose disappearance makes them lose interest.
  5. Better well-being: People who are intrinsically motivated are less stressed because of being aligned with activities that match their values and passions.

But what does this mean for you? Should you wait for people to feel intrinsically motivated or do something to help them along?

Harness the power of intrinsic motivation

To create a truly world-class Wx, harness intrinsic motivation and strengthen it with external (or extrinsic) factors:

  1. Nurture curiosity: Encourage your people to pursue projects of their choice and kindle their passion and curiosity. Initially, to build their interest, consider offering them recognition or a small token reward.
  2. Provide autonomy: Give people control over their work and appeal to their sense of ownership. Be available as a safety net for them but otherwise let them fly solo. On successful completion of autonomous projects or tasks, provide them with relevant recognition or rewards to reinforce this behavior.
  3. Set challenging goals: Collaboratively set goals that are attainable but challenging and encourage people to step out of their comfort zones. Once these goals are attained, or if you see significant effort being put in, consider using recognition and rewards to further support people.
  4. Build psychological safety: Include collaboration, feedback, and recognition in your culture and Wx to make people continuously feel motivated.


Intrinsic motivation is a powerful resource that improves individual and organizational performance. By using it along with extrinsic motivation, you can strengthen it further and create a stable, structured organization. 

Especially if you use more of rewards and recognition than punishment-based motivation techniques, you can elevate the Wx and help your people succeed. 

To talk about more ideas to create a motivational strategy that strengthens your Wx, reach out to us at [email protected].

About the Author

Sumit Single
Sumit has been working in HR & HR consulting roles for 16+ years across sectors and verticals and specializes in organizational design, well-being, storytelling & design thinking, and performance management. In his career with consulting firms such as Aon, Deloitte, and Accenture, he has successfully led programs aimed at total HR transformation for clients.
As Associate Director for India Consulting at Deloitte, he recently worked with clients on cultural transformation, HR processes, and policy design. He also organized and spoke at conferences and events about various topics relevant to HR today.
Now self-employed, he works with clients across the globe on various HR solution areas.
Sam Reeve
Sam Reeve, CompTeam founder and managing consultant, is a pay and talent performance expert and a certified global compensation professional. His extensive experience with pay programs and competitive compensation analysis, career architecture, and talent management allows him to help clients of rapidly growing firms see accurate, measurable results, including increased productivity and significant pay savings, year-over-year.
As an innovative thinker with practical application, Sam strongly believes that everyone needs to be healthy and happy in their own lives to strive as a high-performing contributor. He is driven to help organizations match their employees with the work they are passionate about and reward their people for outstanding work.
sumit singla
PSF 66 | Workforce Experience
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