Most organizations use motivational tactics to improve company performance, yet many studies have shown that such an approach can actually hinder an organization’s long-term success. Companies that outperform their competitors, however, often balanced motivation with inspiration. While many executives use the terms interchangeably, they are actually direct opposites.

Motivation is based on fear, while inspiration is based on love. Think about all the motivational techniques used by managers today, such as the rewarding of raises and bonuses, employee evaluations, company-sponsored continuing education, committee appointments, and promotions – to name just a few.

Each of these is a fear-based technique. The manager is telling the employee that if the employee performs in a certain way, then the employee will be rewarded; fail to perform, and the manager will withhold the reward.


Inspiration, however, requires the manager to align the goals of the organization with the goals of the employee so that both can achieve their long-term visions. It means that the manager has to understand what the employee wants to accomplish not only for the organization, but also in life. Finally, it means that the manager has to connect the employee’s work with the employee’s life goals.

True inspiration means that you love what you do, the reason for doing it, and who you do it with. This is no small feat, but successful organizations have figured out how to balance necessary motivational techniques and programs with inspirational ones. Here are some of the most effective ideas for inspiring your employees:

  • Have powerful mission and vision statements. Employees want to work for companies that are impacting their community in a profound way, and the mission and vision are pronouncements of what you stand for.
  • Be a servant leader. The moment you realize that management exists to serve employees, rather than the other way around, inspiration will become automatic. Servant leaders spend time asking employees how they, as managers, help them do better work. They regularly ask employees if they are doing the best work they are capable of doing, and, if not, why not. They then remove the barriers and obstacles that are getting in the way of employees being the most effective and efficient as possible.
  • Connect your employees to a higher cause. All employees know that the fundamental purpose of the company is to make a profit, but very few are inspired by that goal. Find a cause that is greater than your own, create a strong link to your company, and allow your employees to participate. When employees see that the company’s success has secondary benefits that extend beyond the primary purpose of the company itself, they will be more driven to succeed.
  • Understand that work-life balance doesn’t exist and plan accordingly. As much as been written about work-life balance, there is life – period. Work is a part of life, but only one part. Most of your employees have multiple roles to fill, and being a good employee for your company is only one of them – and maybe the least important. Your employees are rec league coaches, Sunday school teachers, missionaries, mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, husbands and wives, college students, soccer moms, PTA board members, volunteers, and more. Know that the typical employee has six or more “lives,” of which being your employee is only one of them. Find ways to help them manage all of their lives, and they will be more inspired and more productive. Do this through flexible scheduling, providing services that extend beyond the workplace, and simply by acknowledging that their employee “lives” are not the most important “lives” on their lists, even though you might think otherwise.
  • Give your employees a voice. The simple act of asking for the opinions of your employees shows that you value them as much for their ideas as you do for the skills required of their jobs.
  • Reward and recognize your team. Reward successes, but also reward failures. When employees have the company’s best interests at heart, and they push the boundaries of their own capabilities and fail, you should publicly and positively recognize their efforts. Growth only happens when we take on tasks that are beyond our current capabilities, and innovation only occurs when we reward, instead of punishing, failure.
  • Live the values of the company. This means you have to know what the company’s values are, have identified behavioral expectations associated with each, and have communicated them publicly. Role model your values – every day. And when an employee stumbles and falls, take corrective action, no matter how great a performer the employee might be. When your employees see that your company values are more important than the company itself, inspiration can flourish.

Every organization needs to use motivation to ensure that the company’s needs are met. But motivation on its own is never as powerful as a blend of motivation and inspiration. The more you become an inspirational leader, the less you have to rely on motivational tactics. And the greater the chance of your company’s success.

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Posted by Scott Regan

Scott is the founder and chief execution officer of AchieveIt, a technology firm that specializes in strategy development and execution management. In addition to his executive duties at AchieveIt, Scott speaks across the country on furthering execution and creating outstanding and innovative office culture.

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