intrinsic motivation

How To Boost Productivity Through Intrinsic Motivation, Part 1

By David Hassell

In life and in business, motivation bleeds into everything we do and it helps us choose where to focus in our busy lives. We have certain motivations for why we’re in relationships, listen to certain podcasts, choose which books to read, and even navigate how we work. Where we derive our motivation is connected to how we expend our energy both short-term and long.

Intrinsic motivation is the sustainable way to drive employee performance, and is a core theme in our Best-Self Management methodology. It’s all about incentive and deriving pleasure from the activity itself (e.g., a genuine interest in a project or strategic initiative) rather than because of any external benefits that might be obtained, according to the American Psychological Association.

In other words, doing an act that is intrinsically motivated means you are doing it to achieve a deeper, more personal reward than money or any other external validation can offer. 

So, why intrinsic motivation? Well, external motivators can only go so far to drive a person before he or she runs out of steam. Personal fulfillment doesn’t come from a paycheck or the end-goal five years down the road; true motivation comes from waking up day-to-day excited to use our unique strengths and capabilities.

In Episode 8 of the Best-Self Management Podcast, Shane and I begin examining the idea behind intrinsic motivation in the workplace and why it’s a far more powerful way to encourage performance. There are studies that show how to achieve greater productivity through intrinsic motivation, but most organizations fail to put this into practice. It all begins with a clear purpose—your why

Because work is becoming a bigger slice of the pie for most peoples’ lives, having the right motivation to build an extraordinary company opens the door for employees to have some of the best moments of their lives inside the office.

In this episode, we also discuss:

• Why external motivators fall short of intrinsic ones
• The formula for keeping your team intrinsically motivated
• What happens when we don’t take time to build relationships
• Crafting a purpose that goes beyond profitability
• Honing potential and mastery to tune into your zone of genius


The following is a transcribed portion of the Best-Self Management Podcast Episode 8, “Connecting People To Deeper Intrinsic Motivation Pt. 1”

Aligning purpose with passion

David: This week, we’re going to be talking about the second pillar of Best-Self Management, namely motivation. This includes things like the science behind intrinsic motivation versus extrinsic motivators, goal setting and the experience of flow, and people’s connection to purpose. 

Shane: Fundamentally, why we do something influences how we do it. If you want to build a high performing organization where the culture is thriving and people are on a journey of doing the best work of their lives, you need to understand motivation. You need to get the reasons people are in your company and staying with your company aligned with intrinsic motivations of that individual. 

David: Exactly. As we started to build the company there were a number of things I was influenced by and turned onto certain ideas, but each came to the conclusion that intrinsic motivation is far more powerful than trying to create things like carrot-and-stick, reward-and-punishment situations.

I asked myself, “how do we create an environment that not just myself would feel intrinsically motivated to wake up in the morning and do the work, but would create that experience for everyone?” I feel like that would be more inherently fulfilling for everyone that worked at 15Five, and we would get a much greater quality of work product. As a result, it became one of the things we orient around in Best-Self Management, to create the conditions where people feel really intrinsically motivated to work.

A shift in thinking

Shane: David, I’d actually like to go a little deeper and get personal here to understand… why are you doing what you’re doing? Why did you decide to become an entrepreneur and start 15Five? 

David: For me, its really been an iterative process throughout my life and my career about what actually works for me. I initially left corporate America to start my first company in 1999 because I was seeking something more than what I was experiencing at work. I was working for a big consulting company out of college and the work itself wasn’t very inspiring. There wasn’t this connection to purpose that I was longing for. I was looking to create my own path and chart my own course, and in that process, I discovered some things for myself. 

I discovered that just chasing money and trying to build something for profit without a deeper purpose wasn’t fulfilling enough to keep me engaged. And my first company was about that. I also learned along the way that just doing something I was passionate about but didn’t have a profit potential also didn’t work. 

When I met Simon Sinek in 2008, before his now famous TED Talk, his message about why really inspired me, because I realized there was a possibility of doing meaningful work where the work itself would be fulfilling and it wasn’t just about the end results. And also, you could create a wildly successful organization.

It shifted my thinking of intrinsic motivation which was one where you had to leave and go do your own thing, mainly reserved for founders, while employees were relegated to having a subpar work experience, to realizing that this could be a possibility for everybody.

Shane: I think it’s really interesting that it wasn’t until hearing Simon Sinek’s message that the lightbulb went off. Most people don’t realize their full potential because they don’t know what their full potential is. 

Most people aren’t actually operating from their intrinsic motivations and are going about their life using extrinsic motivators to get themselves and other people motivated because they aren’t aware that there is a better way of doing it. It seems like for you that awareness of another way was the beginning of thinking about how to build a company that’s actually rooted in a deeper purpose as a human…


Profitability can’t be the primary reason people build businesses, because that will never get them through the long and challenging game. The real driver of commitment is when we all live full-heartedly around the company’s why, and what impact the business is trying to have through its products and services. The purpose behind your business can instill intrinsic motivation in each of your people, no matter their unique genius or perspectives.

Please join us for part two of our conversation around motivation at work! You can listen to the Best-Self Management Podcast here and subscribe to keep up with the latest episodes. 

David Hassell, CEO of 15Five

David Hassell is co-founder and CEO of 15Five, industry leading continuous performance management software that helps leaders and managers drive high performance by bringing out the best in their people. 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.

Shane Metcalf, CCO of 15Five

As 15Five’s Chief Culture Officer, Shane Metcalf understands what fundamentally motivates people, how to architect high performance, and which principles and rituals create “self-organizing cultures”. Shane has been featured in XConomy, Fast Company, and the New York Post. Follow him on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Photo by Jared Erondu on Unsplash


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