March 19, 2024

Understanding Human Motivation

An image of a compass with an arrow pointing to the direction of success.

Understanding Human Motivation

"Organisations who make the effort to understand what motivates their people will be the winners in the race to create the high-performance work environments of the future. ”    

Why Motivation Matters

Understanding employee motivation is more important than ever. Research has shown that up to 40% of performance in group tasks can be attributed to levels of motivation among team members (Condly, Clark & Stolovitch 2003).

We are going through a period of unprecedented change with shifting demands from employees, customers, and shareholders, greater focus on environmental, social, and governance (ESG) factors, and rapid technological change. This has brought an upheaval in the way people work, where they work, and the way they interact with colleagues, employers, and the system. On top of this, the Covid-19 pandemic accelerated trends towards hybrid working practices and digital communication.

Transitional periods in the social and economic environment are always turbulent and can be uncomfortable to navigate. Employees may become stressed by information overload, uncertainty, and fear of change or frustrated by lack of change. This can lead to de-motivation that prevents progress and impairs performance.

Pressure for change is intense but there will inevitably be a time lag before the results are visible. Tremendous progress is being made in areas like inclusion and sustainability but the magnitude of change required will likely take a half-generation to be fully realised. Consequently, understanding motivation is more important than ever. Organisations who make the effort to understand their people and put in place appropriate measures to support them will be more successful in navigating the transition, supporting innovation, and ensuring sustainable growth.

There is a huge amount of work being done in areas such as inclusion, wellbeing, psychological safety, belonging, employee engagement, and organisational culture. Ultimately, these are components of one overarching theme – human motivation. The winners from this period of transition will be the organisations which have motivated employees, communicating effectively, and making smart decisions.

Mapping Motivation with Motivation Metrics (TM)

The Motivation Metrics(TM) model from MindAlpha is a groundbreaking approach to mapping motivation. We have looked at decades of research into the factors that underpin motivation and tested them in a variety of organisational contexts. Motivation Metrics enables organisations to map motivational drivers and behaviour within their organisation, to identify challenges that may be holding them back, and to design interventions to increase motivation and deliver superior results.

The Motivation Metrics approach differs from others because it recognises that motivation is contextual; the way the various components interact varies from industry to industry, from one organisation to another, and even between groups or individuals within an organisation.

Our model contains three key dimensions: the foundations that support motivation and two higher order dimensions of 1) individual motivation, which drives performance and 2) collective motivation which ensures it is channelled in the right direction. We can think of motivation as the velocity of an organisation; individual motivation determines the speed at which it travels while collective motivation determines the direction of travel.

Foundations of Motivation

The foundations of motivation are the platform on which performance is built. They include wellness across the spheres of physical, mental, and social health, life-balance, and the support environment. The foundations do not determine performance at higher levels but without them, the other motivational factors, either intrinsic, such as autonomy or belonging, or extrinsic such as financial rewards, are worthless.

A common factor among the foundations of motivation is that they span all areas of our lives; they are not work or organisation based. Things happening outside of the office can have a huge bearing on our performance at work. We explore the importance of life-balance and its interaction with the other motivational factors in more detail in this article (It's All About Life-Balance).

Individual and Collective Motivation

Individual motivators are the fuel in the engine, these are that factors that help people get the best out of themselves. The individual motivating factors in the model are autonomy (Deci and Ryan 2018), proficiency, and job-satisfaction.

Collective motivation can be thought of as the ability of a team or group of individuals to pull together towards a common goal and to leverage the breadth of skills and cognitive diversity within a group. In the Motivation Metrics model, collective motivation is predicted by belonging, psychological safety (Edmondson 2018), and organisational satisfaction.

Bringing It All Together

The problem with many motivation measures is they tend to assume motivation sits on a linear scale; that all the driving factors move up or down together. However, this is not the case.

Our research suggests the biggest challenge for most organisations is not raising overall levels across the three dimensions but correcting imbalances between them. Organisations which score poorly across all three dimensions usually know things are going wrong; they are typically failing in many areas, not just motivation.

Many seemingly successful organisations display imbalances between dimensions. These organisations often appear to be performing well on the surface but are, in fact, operating below potential. Such superficial performance is vulnerable to disruption from both intrinsic factors such as unconstructive behaviour or damaging errors, and extrinsic factors such as being usurped by better functioning competition.

The Motivation Metrics framework allows your organisation to map motivation across the three dimensions and their nine supporting factors. This enables you to identify imbalances and highlight behaviours which may be inhibiting progress,allowing you to design targeted interventions which drive superior results.


Condly, Steven J, Richard E Clark, and Harold D Stolovitch. 2003. “The Effects of Incentives on Workplace Performance: A Meta-analytic Review of Research Studies 1.” Performance Improvement Quarterly.

Deci, Edward, and Richard Ryan. 2018. Self-Determination Theory: Basic Psychological Needs in Motivation, Development and Wellness. The Guilford Press.

Edmondson, Amy. 2018. The Fearless Organisation.  

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