intrinsic motivation

How To Boost Productivity Through Intrinsic Motivation, Part 2

By Shane Metcalf

Until the 1980’s, the consensus in psychology was that mental development slowed significantly when you physically stopped growing. This myth has led to many organizational leaders believing that their employees are only as good as their current abilities, not realizing the value of their potential.

Thankfully, we now know that each person is capable of flourishing far beyond our late teens/early twenties (phew). However, so many organizations are still operating out of the remnants of that world view. 

For example, we’ve all heard the vapid expression, you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. While this phrase is most commonly used to justify a fixed mindset, it also disempowers individuals to add new skill sets to their wheelhouse.

By switching your focus onto the growth and development of your people, your company then has the ability to experience a true win-win through inspiring—not forcing—high performance, and contributing to your employees’ learning journeys. This is the magic of intrinsic motivation.


In episode 9 of the Best-Self Management Podcast, we discuss how cultivating mastery in your people, connecting their strengths to purpose, and granting trust through autonomy allows for a profound sense of intrinsic motivation. By aligning your business interests with your employees’ passions, you’ll create a deeper why that keeps your people excited to show up each day as their best selves

In this episode, we also discuss:

• What happens to motivation when we move towards mastery
• How to set self-development objectives in addition to business goals
• How learning with personal intrinsic value will help foster skills needed for the workplace
• The importance of granting your people the autonomy and trust they need to succeed and grow
• How a sense of connection with your team members can be an intrinsic motivator


The following is a transcribed portion of the Best-Self Management Podcast Episode 9, “Intrinsic Motivation Part 2: Operating from your Deeper Why”

Intrinsic motivation through mastery and purpose

Shane: So, you have a really clear purpose around your organization, maybe you’ve actually done some personal work, and you’re feeling pretty intrinsically motivated around your purpose. Let’s talk about potential/mastery. I think those two are fairly interchangeable. 

Mastery is an interesting idea, and Abraham Maslow said ‘whatever a person can be, they must be. This, we call self-actualization.’ It’s an amazing quote and speaks to the impulse we have to become our best selves, grow in sequential levels of development, and recognize the themes in our lives that we can then turn into strengths, then into our genius.

David: The quote you mentioned points to this universal yearning that we all have; whether we feel safe and confident enough to go and pursue it, the yearning is there. When people say they’re going to leave a job, one of the primary reasons people leave is because they aren’t growing anymore and want to find another opportunity where they can.

If you are a manager or a business leader, and you’re not tuned into your employees’ intrinsic motivations, or whether they’re are having an experience where they can continue to grow, you’re at risk of losing people. I think the Army borrowed from Maslow years ago in the famous campaign ‘be all you can be,’ that aimed to pull on the heartstrings of people’s desire to be their best selves. We all have that.

When we’re having the experience of progress and moving towards mastery, we’re energized. It’s a self-rewarding process that keeps us motivated to do more. It does require a growth mindset and the sense that the effort you’re putting into something, even if you’re not doing great at the outset, is going to yield results and positivity in the end. 

Developing strengths with a growth mindset

Shane: This is also connected to strengths, and I’ll share a little bit of story around my own. Doing the Gallup StrengthsFinder and getting your top five strengths is really fascinating, but the first time I read them, I like to say, felt like a bad horoscope. I thought ‘yeah, whatever.’ They are kind of in the ball-park… but I’m going to put this back on the shelf.

A couple years later, I was going back into those, getting a deeper understanding of strengths and what the potential was, and really recognizing that these are the domains that I have the potential to develop mastery in, or rather, these are domains that I’m going to have the most ease and flow in developing mastery around.

If I invest in these, I get a massive return. So then I started thinking, ‘okay, how do I really grow and develop and pursue mastery in these different strengths?’ Then, as a manager, it’s about supporting people in that process of finding books in those domains, getting coaches, thinking about putting themselves in different projects to help develop those capacities and intrinsic motivators. This process can truly benefit that person for the rest of their life. 

Mastery isn’t something that you simply gain for a job. Mastery benefits you in who you are currently, who you’re becoming, and in all domains.

David: Right, and that’s the frame that you’re holding. You’re going to get better results from your people if you support them on their path of growth and mastery, but they’re going to be motivated even more so by their role, company, and job because they’re in the process of ‘becoming.’ And these skills are applicable, not just to the job, but to their whole life. 

So, how do we create the conditions where people are on that path? I think the first is teaching about the importance of growth mindset versus a fixed mindset, so people understand that they can grow and develop. Give your employees the tools to understand what their strengths are through things like StrengthsFinder and pure feedback, and then create a management structure where people are supported with self-development objectives, then apply that to their work… 


Creating self-development objectives for yourself can be challenging. It’s rare for people to make the deliberate choice to grow in a specific area, because that process can be intimidating. Without the support and accountability from someone, it can be hard to maintain alone. By making it a part of your professional journey, you can develop mastery that’s meaningful to you on a personal level, and increase both your competence and confidence in and out of the workplace. 

A sweet spot for intrinsic motivation is when your mastery maps directly to your primary responsibilities. Designing your role to match your strengths creates a cycle of never ending growth, and the more you’re learning, the easier it becomes to learn more things.

Listen to the full episode here, and don’t forget to subscribe to the Best-Self Management Podcast! In the next episode, we discuss leadership best practices and rituals you can put in place to create a more positive workplace.

Shane Metcalf, CCO of 15Five

Shane Metcalf is Chief Culture Officer at 15Five, continuous performance management software that includes weekly check-ins, objectives (OKR) tracking, peer recognition, 1-on-1s, and 360°reviews. Shane has spent his career studying organizational & human development, which now translates into the high performing 15Five culture.

David Hassell, CEO of 15Five

David Hassell is co-founder and CEO of 15Five. David formerly served as President of the San Francisco chapter of the Entrepreneurs’ Organization and was later named “The Most Connected Man You Don’t Know in Silicon Valley” by Forbes Magazine. David has been featured in The Wall Street Journal, Inc., Entrepreneur, and Wired. Follow him on Twitter @dhassell.

Photo by Coen van den Broek on Unsplash


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