Harvard Business Review discusses a study that looked at what really drives employee motivation. While the study is really looking at emotions and what satisfies employees and makes them happy (and not really “motivation” per se), it does reveal some interesting findings. The most important is that employees having a sense of progress is a key driver in this aspect.


Of course this ties right into two of the four drives: Acquire & Achieve and Challenge & Comprehend. As employees, we need to feel like we are Achieving something – i.e., making progress. When we feel we are stuck or not moving forward, we are not satisfying our drive to Achieve.  We also are motivated to be challenged – but we need to see progress in this arena in order to stay motivated by it.

While the study shed light on how progress motivates, it did not dig in deep to how this works.  For instance the HBR study did not explore what type of progress was greater motivator — progress on everyday simple tasks or those tasks that are challenging.  I would theorize that progress on the challenging goals has a higher impact.   Nor did it look at the effect of proximity to the end goal.  In other words, is it more motivating to achieve progress towards a goal at the very beginning or closer to the end (e.g., example of getting the first 1,000 miles towards your frequent flyer free trip or getting the 24,000 mile (when you need 25,000 to earn the free trip))?

Overall the HBR article brought up some key insights that will help us all in understanding what motivates us. Read the HBR article here