Ep. 370: How to Inspire Your Team to Perform at Their Best

Motivation in the Workplace

Strategies for Motivating Employees and Increasing Productivity

Who should listen: If you manage or lead people, then this episode will provide you with insights about employee motivation you probably haven’t heard before.

Key idea: Whether people are motivated intrinsically or extrinsically to perform a task should influence whether you assign algorithmic or heuristic tasks to them—and the types of rewards you offer.

Welcome to part two of our episode on motivation!

In part one (which you can listen to here), we discussed extrinsic and intrinsic motivation and five motivational types. We also took a short quiz and discovered that Luke is motivated by power, Josh by achievement, and Arielle by affiliation.

In this week’s Silver Dollar episode, we talk about two compelling ideas that can shape the way you think about motivation and motivating employees, in particular.

Algorithmic tasks and heuristic tasks

The first idea comes from Daniel Pink, author of Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us [#ad]. He suggests that leaders and managers ought to have different reward systems in place: one for people who perform algorithmic tasks and another for people who perform heuristic tasks.

Algorithmic tasks are highly repetitive. An example would be a sales caller whose job is to call leads—all day they dial the phone and try to sell a product or service. Their jobs usually involve hitting a measurable quota of some sort, such as a defined number of dials or contacts in a specified period.

According to Pink, sales callers and others who perform algorithmic tasks are highly motivated by money (an extrinsic reward). Oftentimes these employees are paid a base salary, commissions, overtime, and incentives because that’s what works to drive them to perform at their best.

On the other hand, heuristic tasks are highly variable. These tasks require a degree of creativity, and projects frequently require that personnel come up with something new each time. An example would be software developers.

Using an experiment called the candle test, first developed by Karl Duncker and which has since been repeated numerous times over 40+ years, researchers have discovered that extrinsic rewards can have an opposite effect on people who perform heuristic tasks. In short, incentives to motivate employees need to go beyond common financial rewards.

When you listen to the episode, you’ll hear the details that describe the candle test. The test reveals the interconnected consequences of defining a task one way versus another and the introduction of a reward. The conclusion has implications for how to motivate people to perform at their best.

The locus of control

The second idea we introduce comes from the work of Professor Claudia M. Meuller. She conducted an experiment in 1998 at Columbia University that involved fifth-graders who were asked to solve several difficult puzzles independently.

Regardless of how well they solved their puzzles, each child was told they did an excellent job of solving their puzzles and even did better than most of the other children.

After a short period, half the children were told they did well because they worked hard to solve the puzzles. The other half of the group was told they did well because they were talented and gifted. The entire group was then presented with more puzzles that were either easy, of average difficulty, or quite challenging.

We won’t give away the whole story, but you can listen to what happened during the second round of puzzles and find out the unexpected outcome. The lesson, however, is this: those who think/feel/believe that their success is under their control have an internal locus of control.

People with an internal locus of control believe their fortunes are influenced by what they do and don’t do. They tend to take responsibility for their actions and their outcomes. They don’t offer excuses that place blame for failure on external factors.

As an example, imagine the types of responses you might get from a salesperson who’s asked, “Why didn’t you hit your sales goal today?”

  • From someone with an external locus of control, you’re bound to get excuses that blame factors, such as, “The leads were poor.” There’s no motivation to improve because the failure isn’t their fault; they have no control over the outcome.
  • From someone with an internal locus of control, you’re more likely to get reasons that reflect their abilities, such as, “I need to improve the way I handle objections.” In this instance, they take responsibility for the outcome and can be motivated to improve.

Motivating employees in the workplace can be challenging. So in addition to exploring the ideas of algorithmic and heuristic tasks and locus of control, we went a little further. We also discuss how you can use this information to assess your team, compensation agreements, and reward structure to find better ways to motivate employees you lead or manage.

Connect | Resources

Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel Pink


Are you interested in working with Luke and Josh to improve your marketing, get more referrals, enjoy more repeat business, and begin living the life of freedom you deserve? CLICK HERE to get a special offer just for Stay Paid listeners!


We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an advertising program designed to provide a means for ReminderMedia to earn a small fee by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.

Subscribe today to get the most actionable sales and marketing tips.