How Do You Motivate Your Employees?


Fred Perrotta

On a recent call with a fellow founder:

Him: How do you motivate your employees?
Me: I don't. Am I supposed to?

I was joking to highlight a serious point. I am not a rah-rah, pound my fist on the table, give a rousing speech CEO. I won't be delivering Pacino's Any Given Sunday speech on a future retreat. That style may work for some but not for me. I've learned to be okay with that.

If a person is only motivated by a "light a fire under your ass" speech, I don't want them on the Tortuga team.

I do not motivate employees. I (try to) choose employees who are already motivated by what we do.

Most companies have no mission aside from making money. Most managers give orders without a why. Most jobs are bullshit.

Motivation is easy if...

  • Your company has a mission worth caring about
  • The job is worth doing and contributes to that worthwhile mission
  • You, as a manager, make the mission and how the job contributes to it, clear
  • You hire someone who cares about that mission and is good at that role

If the company is pointless or the work is mindless paper shuffling, you can see why a manager may give an empassioned speech to paper over these shortcomings. Maybe the speech even works, briefly. Then what? You have to do it again. If you're remote you'll have to give that rousing speech over a Slack call. Rather than giving a new speech every day without losing efficacy, perhaps the bullets above are actually worth doing.

Creating extrinsic motivation is hard. You have to keep dangling new and better carrots to motivate people.

Intrinsic motivation is more powerful but requires that your company is doing something worthwhile and that you can hire the people who care about that thing. Extrinsic motivations like raises do matter. However, you'll get much better results from the person who takes pride in her daily work than from the one who cares only about her next promotion.

Remember, motivation is optional.