At Think 3D we often hear the question “How do I better motivate my team?” This question is usually accompanied by the caveat of “for not much money”. While understandable, this usually leads to us answering with “Do you truly want to motivate, or just incentivize?” This may seem like a matter of semantics, but understanding the nuance between them is as important as it is valuable. Motivation is defined as “the reason or reasons one has for acting or behaving in a particular way.” Whereas incentive is defined as “a thing that motivates or encourages one to do something.” Simply put: an incentive is something external that is given, while motivation is a drive that must be fueled internally.

Traditional incentives like bonuses and gifts have been historically effective in driving results, most notably in sales and production environments—I mean, who doesn’t like money right? The downside to relying too heavily on incentives is that it can lead to ethics issues, diminished quality, bloated budgets, and a dog-eat-dog atmosphere that can undermine a truly “all-in” culture. Motivation on the other hand is harder to obtain initially because you can’t buy it. That does not mean you don’t have to invest in it, but rather that the required currency is more likely to be in time, effort and relationship-building rather than anything monetary.

Motivation has to be powered by something internal. It’s not just your why, it’s your why should I—as in “Why should I do this” or “why should I care?” Perhaps the single biggest misstep we see organizations make in this area is assuming they can provide an incentive that is greater than an individual’s personal motivations. This is why we encourage organizations to align motivations rather than trying to change them. We have a saying at Think 3D: “Don’t do it for the money, do it for what the money does. What can it do for you?” Whatever that answer is for your employees—whether it be a new home, a vehicle or sending kids to college—should become the focal point of the conversation between them and their leaders. Nothing that you can offer will fuel a person as much as their own desires and goals.

What is gained in talking numbers with someone who is not a numbers person? In our experience, not much—to have a meaningful conversation you have to use a shared language. Find that shared language with your employees. View the situation through their eyes. Instead of “we need more X” or “you didn’t do enough Y”, what if you discuss how to take advantage of existing incentive programs so that they can more easily save the down payment for their dream home? Show employees how their motivations align with yours—it would be hard to argue against that being more impactful than “you are not on target to meet the monthly goal for bonus.” The most important thing to remember is that your employees don’t work for you, they only report to you. They work for themselves and their families, and what better motivation is there than that?