Don’t try to Motivate your team, Employee Engagement is what matters: What and Why (Part 1)

I just want to make something clear. For what matters most, nobody can motivate you but yourself.

Employers, Managers, Team Leaders, Supervisors have the responsibility to engage employees. They couldn’t motivate them even if they wanted to.

Employee engagement means that Managers are responsible for creating the opportunities and the framework within which the employees can create, thrive and eventually succeed.

Motivation is something that comes within.

This outlook brings a new meaning to the interview question:

Are you self-motivated?

It makes it maybe the most important question one needs to pay attention to!

It also bring another perspective to the excellent motto from Mark Horstman and Mike Auzenne of Manager Tools, that:

“Hiring is the most important activity that a manager does”.

So, why employee engagement is so important and how can we apply this concept and reap the benefits? 


The caveat is simple. More pay, perks and bonuses (carrots and sticks) may not be as effective as we may think in engaging and “motivating” people but if an organisation gets them wrong they can surely become de-motivators.

As Daniel Pink puts it in his excellent book DRIVE:

“Of course, the starting point for any discussion of motivation in the workplace is a simple fact of life: People have to earn a living. Salary, contract payments, some benefits, a few perks are what I call baseline rewards. If someone’s baseline rewards aren’t adequate or equitable, her focus will be on the unfairness of her situation and the anxiety of her circumstance. …..You’ll get very little motivation at all”.


Provided that the caveat condition is satisfied, why the use of extrinsic means (pay, perks, rewards or punishments) does not work for what matters most? Let’s look at the research:

Quoting from the book Drive by Daniel Pink:

“Researchers such as Harvard Business School’s Teresa Amabile have found that external rewards and punishments both carrots and sticks can work nicely for algorithmic [routine] tasks. But they can be devastating for heuristic [non-routine, creative] ones“.

As I discussed previously here, been innovative as an individual or an organisation is a key for remaining relevant and successful in the future.

So, the successful delivery of knowledge work (as Drucker calls blue collar work) which is prevalent in the Western World, will rely largely on heuristic [non-routine] tasks i.e. innovation and non linear thinking.

Therefore, the focus is on non-routine knowledge work that is harder to be outsourced and hence, will remain the primary aspect of job growth in the developed World.

Research from McKinsey detail that routine (labour intensive) work accounts for 30% job growth versus non-routine work (knowledge intensive) job growth of  70% (details for US market). I believe that in Australia it may account for even more than70% but I am not aware of any specific research results yet.

As we saw from the research, extrinsic motivation (carrots and sticks) do not stimulate the non-routine kind of work. But this depends on what Amabile calls:

the “intrinsic motivation principle of creativity”

Intrinsic motivation (self-motivation) can be stimulated by employee engagement.

Quite simply, the traditional motivation methods (carrots and sticks) do not work for the work that matters most.

In the 2nd part of the blog I discuss the So What aspect of employee engagement and on the 3rd part I will also provide some practical tips of how to to stimulate it within the workplace.

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About Geovrakas
George Vrakas (MBA, CCMP, CMILT) is highly reputed in the field of services procurement and logistics and has presented on topics such as, Globalisation, Services Procurement, Leadership, Continuous Improvement and Personal Productivity at various venues and Universities in Melbourne. He has also been the host at industry events and published articles on Procurement and Contract Management at various online publications. George was a Board member of the Chartered Institute of Logistics & Transport Australia (CILT Australia) from 2011 until 2016 and also a member of the International Association for Contract & Commercial Management (IACCM). George holds an MBA from Victoria University specializing in International Supply Chain Management and Applied Economics, he is also a certified Commercial Contract Management Practitioner (CCMP), a Green Belt Lean Six Sigma expert and holds a Lloyd's Maritime Academy certificate in KPIs for Ports and Terminals. He also holds certification on variety of topics primarily relating to Contract Management, Negotiations, International Regulations, Problem Solving and Change Management.

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