Motivation + Competencies = Performance

..or: Imagine if everyone were a top performer

Karsten Bundgaard | Partner | Motivation Factor Institute | Copenhagen | Denmark


You know it well.

In every company, department or team there is that one person. The Top-Performer.  You’ve seen them in action – completing all their tasks with a smile, consistently achieving their goals, always having that extra energy in everyday life and seeming more popular and likeable than average. Where does it come from? How does he or she do it?

Imagine if everyone always gave 100%
There are many reasons why some perform and succeed better than others. Some sociologists say that “Success is the result of the individual’s accumulated benefits”. But I wonder if perhaps exceptional planning, hard work and talent help along the way as well? Probably. But there is still more to it – and it is important for us to be conscious of what it truly takes.

I will, without scientific evidence, claim that the top-performer is always highly motivated. In other words, it is rare to meet a top-performer who complains about assignments, customers, products, the environment and so on. You’ll never experience a top-performer saying “We’ve tried that already ..” or creating a bad atmosphere, dragging colleagues down.

No! The top-performer is motivated and engaged positively in the work – and probably everything else he or she is doing.

328 Billion USD
Disengaged employees are without a doubt the biggest source of reduced productivity in business. Modern Survey in Minneapolis, MN takes a constant temperature of motivation and engagement on the U.S. labor market. Also in 2017, the survey showed that more than 2/3 of the workforce were either under-engaged or un-engaged. A tremendous number, yes – and the study also notes that only about 10% are fully engaged.

Gallup is doing similar analyses, and publishes almost the same numbers. This highly regarded research house estimates that lack of engagement annually costs the U.S. economy about 328 billion dollars.

More motivation and engagement, thank you!
Imagine if we could increase the motivation and engagement of even just a few percent? A focus on motivation and engagement, can translate directly to greater efficiency and is certainly the shortest path to competitiveness and increased bottom line.

Scientists and gurus
So you could simply say: “We must all have more motivation and engagement!” But motivation and engagement is a vast field of study, to which many scientists and management gurus have contributed great ideas and models over the past 100 years. But even with all this study, there is still something missing before we can all just “get some more of it”.

– Maslow and Herzberg
Particularly well known is Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs from 1943 and Frederick Herzberg’s motivation theory from 1959. While Maslow’s hierarchy arranges human needs by importance, Herzberg focused on the tasks and factors associated with those motivational needs. Herzberg’s theory further divides those needs, tasks and factors into two groups:
1) Hygiene factors – basic and fundamental
2) Motivation factors – personal development and self-actualization.

– Seligman and Csikszentmihalyi
Martin Seligman is considered the father of positive psychology – the science of how life can be made more meaningful and fulfilling.  Complementary to Seligman’s theories, the Hungarian researcher Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi attacks the motivation challenge from a slightly different angle with his Flow Theory. Csikszentmihalyi says that your Flow, and thus your highest levels of motivation, is achieved when your skills, talents and needs are aligned with your tasks.  How can you tell if you are in Flow?
• If the task is too large or too complicated with respect to your needs, strengths and skills, you will become demoralized or insecure.  I know for myself, for example, the prospect of reading a 50-page contract is daunting and when faced with such a task, I quickly lose both the energy for the job and any hope that I will be able to contribute anything of value.
• If the task is too simple or mundane compared to your needs, strengths and skills, you will soon get bored and lose concentration.  If I’m asked to clean up my mailbox or make travel accounts, I can not concentrate for long. I get impatient – always checking the time and wondering whether I will finish soon.  The result is usually that I abandon the job before it’s done.
• If you match your needs, strengths and competencies the task at hand you will experience Flow where you forget time and place, are fully immersed in an energized focus, and experience full involvement and enjoyment in the activity or task.  A Power Point presentation for the launch of a new product, crafting new text for a website or creating a graphical representation of a model? These are the tasks that interest me – that I love to engage in – and are those which can make me forget everything around me.

-Daniel Pink
With his book “Drive – The surprising truth about what motivates us”, bestselling author Daniel Pink effectively questions traditional reward systems as motivators. Pink takes issue with monetary incentives, bonuses, commission systems and other “carrots”. He provides evidence that while traditional motivators may still work for the industrial assembly line – where the work is made up of repetitive, mechanical tasks – but those approaches are not effective in motivating modern, creative and knowledge-based labor.

The missing factor
Recent theories are including more discussion about external and internal motivation. External factors are those that come from outside, such as salaries, environment, management and collegial support. Internal factors come from the inside – an individual’s needs, talents and sense of purpose – like those expressed in Csikszentmihalyi’s Flow Theory.

Yet these are only two of the three key factors. There are, in fact, three elements that contribute to long term engagement and motivation:
• External motivators: Factors such as money, training, work environment, management support, etc. These are reward types which come from outside the individual.
• Internal motivators: Factors such as the extent to which your strengths are acknowledged and put into play, the extent to which your personal needs are met and the extent to which you find purpose and meaning in what you do.  These are reward types that are internal and unique to each individual.

… And last but not least “the missing factor”:

• Motivation Capability: This key factor is the individual’s own ability to identify what gives and what takes away his or her motivation – and what to do about it.  It is the ability to know what to pursue and what to avoid in order to become or remain highly motivated.  It is the ability to find and actively connect with the personal meaning and purpose in the job or task.

Recent research
Boston Research Group and Motivation Factor initiated a study combining a traditional employee satisfaction survey with Motivation Factor. Analysis of the data clearly shows that 55% of employees’ overall engagement is derived from or influenced by external motivators, while 45% is derived from or influenced by internal motivation factors and motivation capability.  This indicates that traditional employee engagement initiatives have been addressing little more than half of the engagement question.

In order to know what motivates you, you must know your personal needs and talents. But knowing what you should try to gain more of and what you should avoid – and actively managing those factors – is the key to sustained motivation over the long term.

BoblerUS_jan13Your motivation, your responsibility
Your motivation is much to important to be left to someone else. You need the insight and the awarenes enabling you to take control and ownership yourself. You need to know

  • What enhance – and what drains your energy?
  • What are my needs? When are they met? When are they not?
  • What are my talents? When do I leverage them? When do I not?
  • What’s my purpose related to my job?

Let’s get started motivating and engaging ourselves. We’ll have more fun, be more efficient and earn more money – what are we waiting for?


Motivation Factor® enables you to identify what to pursue and what to avoid to stay highly motivated. Imagine if you knew exactly how to motivate yourself and/or your staff. Motivation Factor helps to verbalize your vision and provides you with the tools to work structured and professionally with your own and/or your employees’ motivation factors and contribution to the overall objectives.

Motivation and research
Recent brain research tells us that our motivation is rooted in our individual needs and talents. When it comes to personal change and the development processes, it is essential to focus on what drives you towards the goal, and it is equally important to know what to avoid in order to stay motivated. With this knowledge, you can maintain determination and focus along with motivation and willingness to adapt. Learn more about Motivation Factor tools and programs here.

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