Unlocking the Intrinsic Motivators in Your Workforce

There is no passion to be found playing small, in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.

—Nelson Mandela

By 2025, millennials will make up 75 percent of the workforce.  In the past decade, a tremendous amount of research and effort has been put into answering this question: How do we prepare, recruit, retain, motivate, and engage millennial workers? One common emergent thread is that passion and meaning figure prominently in how millennials make decisions and commit and express their loyalty.

When it comes to the work needs of millennials as a group, they’re committed to feeling motivated and to seeking out learning opportunities as a means of feeling engaged. They want to love what they do, and that means activating and renewing passion for the projects on which they work.

Best-selling author Dan Pink explored forty years of research to uncover some vital truths about passionate engagement; the product of his efforts is the 2009 book Drive: The Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us. Pink tells us that much of what we know about motivation is mistaken, especially insofar as we tend to think about motivation in terms of carrots and sticks, or rewards and punishments. Sure, some are motivated by extrinsic rewards like cash bonuses or raises, and yes, those sorts of rewards can be particularly useful, especially when we’re assigned what Pink refers to as algorithmic tasks—the sort where the same activity is repeated over and over. But the true secret to high performance is not about the drive to seek reward and avoid punishment, nor is it about biological needs for connectedness.

It’s a third thing: our deep-seated desire to purposefully direct our own lives.

With that insight as a guide, Pink draws up a new approach to motivation built on satisfying three essential needs:

  1. the need for autonomy or self-determination;
  2. the urge to master something that matters; and
  3. a sense of purpose or our yearning to be in service of something larger than ourselves.

These three elements not only help develop motivation but also sustain our interest—even when it comes to activities that may have unsatisfying aspects.

Jim Collins, in his book “Good to Great”, offers an analogy for thinking about how successful businesses employ people who love what they do and feel motivated and engaged. Collins likened putting together a business team to getting the right people onto the bus and into the right seats. While the adage has stuck, its business application is often not clear. The right people are the ones who share your company’s core values; they fit and thrive in your culture. To have the right people in the right seats means that each employee is operating within their area of greatest skill and passion within the organization, that the role and responsibility expected of each fits their unique abilities.


Typical problems within an organization arise when the right person is in the wrong seat, or the wrong person is in the right seat. A fantastic tool for trying to understand whether or not we’ve got the right people in the right seats was developed during the research and writing of my book published last year, The Formula For Luck. It goes by the acronym GWAB. The G stands for getting it, the W stands for wanting it, the A stands for ability to do it, and the B stands for believing in it.

  • Do They Get It?

If they get it, they will have what seems like a natural ability, an intuitive grasp, a true understanding of their role, the culture, the systems and way in which the job comes together. We know when people just get it. Some of that is just their wiring. “Getting it” is the piece that’s nontrainable. If they don’t have it, they most certainly should not have a seat on the bus.

  • Do They Want It?

Does the role recognize their value and offer them forward progress? Do they actually like their job and want to do it based on fair compensation and the job description and the potential for future upwards mobility? Do they wake up every day and genuinely want to be part of the solution and proactively move the company forward? If they don’t, they are in the wrong seat. If they have all 3 other characteristics (G,A and B), you might want to look for a different seat (role) for them.

  • Are They Able to Do It?

Does the person have the mental, emotional, and physical capacity, as well as the time and the knowledge, to do the job? This category is negotiable since there are many trainable skills. Some people accomplish in 40 hours what others do in 55. Some perform better in a “work from home” environment than others. What this usually comes down to is the person’s willingness to be trained or to change some aspect of their personal lives in order to have the time to devote to the job.

  • Do They Believe in It?

Do they believe in and care about the values, the mission, the “why”? Does the company and its purpose derive a clear sense of meaning. This is different from “getting it” insofar as “believing in it” names a serious and unwavering commitment to the company’s values, mission and goals. Almost always, believers are keepers, and companies should find ways for them to train and grow. Believers often take equity and bonus over regular compensation. They often have the highest eNPS (Employee Net Promoter Scores) and help retain other team members.

Wanting and Believing align to and result in passion and incredible outperformance. Great leaders establish missions and build cultures that employees believe in and want to be a part of. Getting it is achievable through smart recruiting, interviewing and referencing. Ability is trainable, coachable and developable, but cannot result in meaningful change if it is invested in someone who neither Wants or Believes. If you need to learn more on how to apply GWAB in your workplace, or develop a culture which nurtures passion, please touch base with our team at Clarity as these are simple and powerful levers that result in truly meaningful change.


Although passion is a major part of what companies need from their employees, it’s also not something that can realistically be taught. Nor, as we’ve learned, is it something that can be ignited by external motivators like the promise of material rewards or the threat of various punishments. At best, passion can be kindled or sustained by the specific practices that facilitate it. In other words, keeping people happy comes back to the idea of triggering people’s intrinsic motivators. That is a matter of clarifying goals, providing opportunities for self-direction and meaningful choice, providing instructive and useful feedback and encouragement, and facilitating a flexible and collaborative workplace.

This article merely scratches the surface on uncovering passion in the workplace and building up leaders’ capacity to recognize it. To learn more about our research on organizational culture and dynamics, visit our website at bermudaclarityinstitute.com