It's every manager's dream: focused, dedicated employees who need minimal supervision to excel. Well, it doesn't have to be a dream.

Hiring motivated people is a great way to start. Southwest Airlines, for example, seeks to “hire for attitude and train for skills.”

Employees often begin jobs highly motivated about the work, the company, and their new co-workers. For many, however, that enthusiasm wanes fast. Why? Often, it's the environment and the obstacles they encounter as they try to do their jobs.

Bill Hewlett, former chairman and CEO of Hewlett-Packard, put it this way: “Employees want to do a good job, a creative job, and if they are provided the proper environment, they will.”

Having a good manager also helps. The Gallup Organization has found that the relationship between employees and their immediate manager is a key predictor of those employees' motivation, job satisfaction, and tenure.

The interaction of these variables creates the challenge. Jack Welch, Chairman & CEO of General Electric, claims that 90 percent of good management is about getting the right people in the right jobs.

I've found these strategies to be effective at sparking employees' internal motivation:

Ask for employees' opinions

This gets employees to think about different viewpoints and to evaluate which are best. It engages and encourages them to be active participants. Since they're often closer to the problems of their jobs, they tend to know how things can be done better.

Let your people tell you how to manage them

By asking employees how you can best help them get their work done, you are validating their importance and underscoring your role as a resource and supporter to them in achieving their goals.

Get employees' input when setting goals

If you involve employees in setting goals, you will have a better chance of obtaining their commitment to those goals. They are likely to be more dedicated, creative, and resourceful in achieving them. And here's a bonus: You will often find that they will set more difficult goals than you might have set for them.

Whatever you do, involve workers in decisions

Sharing decision-making power demonstrates respect for your employees and their expertise and increases the likelihood of better decisions.

It will help your employees develop a sense of ownership of their jobs, which will make the work more motivating and more satisfying. And in the end, you win.

Bob Nelson, PhD, is president of Nelson Motivation Inc., San Diego. His latest book is Please Don't Just Do What I Tell You! Do What Needs to Be Done. For more information, call (800) 575-5521, send e-mail to, or visit

Take Out

Build self-motivation:

  1. Ask employees for their opinion. Those closer to problems often have the best ideas about how to solve them.

  2. Let your people tell you how to manage them. Asking tells employees that you want to do what's best for them.

  3. Get employees' input when setting goals.

  4. Involve workers in decisions. This gives employees a sense of ownership.