The Three Secrets of Engagement

Do you know what causes engagement in your team? The type of engagement I am talking about is innate, in other words driven by an internal desire, and universal, that is it applies across all peoples and cultures.

As it happens, research [1] has demonstrated that we all seek self-determination. And self-determination is made up of three innate and universal intrinsic motivators:

  • Competence: Our need to feel effective when interacting with our environment
  • Autonomy: Our need to feel a sense of choice and psychological freedom when performing an activity
  • Relatedness: Our need to feel connected to others, to be a member of a group, to love and care and be loved and cared for in return

If you are not attending to these three intrinsic motivators, then your team members may well start to disengage and eventually leave.  In fact, autonomy (or lack of it), has been shown by some research to be a key determinant of turnover.

So how can you use this knowledge to create an environment where people not alone want to stay, but are naturally motivated to engage and give of their best? Here are some suggestions:

Competence: Focus your attention on building each person’s strengths. Develop a Learning Plan for each person, and do so collaboratively. Build the competencies that matter not just to the job that the person is currently doing, but also their future career aspirations. Make it your goal to make people feel stronger.

Autonomy: Be specific when designing each person’s job as to the limits of their authority. For example, what decisions can they make without having to refer to you? What control do they have over their work and how it gets done? What control or influence do they have over how work processes are improved? Make it your goal to broaden and deepen each person’s locus of control.

Relatedness: What social supports do people have in performing their work, especially when the work is taxing or stressful? How do you and other team members show that you care for each other? Make it your goal to create a community of people who are looking out for each other.

There are many other ways in which you can attend to these intrinsic motivators…you are limited only by your imagination. Next time you are doing a performance appraisal or goal setting with your team, probe into these three areas and you may be surprised by what you find.

[1] See also the original article from Deci and Ryan on Self Determination Theory

Brian Ward