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Brain Circuits

Changing employee behavior part two: motivation as a lever of change

Published 8 July 2021 in Brain Circuits • 2 min read

It is extremely challenging for managers to get employees to change behavior, but it is not impossible. In part one, we looked at managers own behaviors and whether they were producing an environment that was conducive to change. After establishing best practices for yourself, you should focus on what is called the MAPS model: motivation, ability, psychological capital and supporting environment. Most managers tend to focus on ability, underestimating the importance of the other three levers.

Motivation is what gets people inspired, proactive and involved. There are two types of motivation: intrinsic, which is something fulfilling or enjoyable and extrinsic which at work is usually in the form of awarding bonuses and merit increases.

Extrinsic motivation is fairly self-explanatory. It is most effective when used to boost performance on those tasks that use mechanical skills. For cognitive skills, intrinsic motivation is far more effective.  

Affecting intrinsic motivation in others is a bit more complicated and includes the following three factors:

Autonomy: the sense of being in control and having a choice. To increase a sense of autonomy, managers should involve people, get the tone right and offer choices.

Mastery: the sense of being competent and relishing challenges. Reminding an employee of their strengths, positioning things as a challenge (rather than change), and appealing to a sense of pride are effective at creating a sense of mastery.

Connection: the sense of being meaningfully connected to other people and what you are doing. Managers can boost connection by involving people – asking why it matters and what the benefits of change will be; explaining the reasons for change; and making it personal and practical.

Remember: One size does not fit all – people’s intrinsic motivation, as well as advice on increasing it, depends heavily on gender, culture, age and career concept.



Shlomo Ben-Hur

Shlomo Ben-Hur

Professor of Leadership and Organizational Behavior

Professor Shlomo Ben-Hur works on the psychological and cultural aspects of leadership, and the strategic and operational elements of talent management and corporate learning. He is the Director of IMD’s Changing Employee Behavior program and IMD’s Organizational Learning in Action, and author of the books Talent IntelligenceThe Business of Corporate Learning, Changing Employee Behavior: a Practical Guide for Managers and Leadership OS.


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