Motivating Employees With Autonomy, Growth And Purpose

Ever since Edwin Locke first revealed his 1960s research into goal setting and motivation, it has become clear that effective goal setting is a key to great leadership. Even with purpose, we all need something to work towards to boost our motivation and know we’re making progress. Aside from making your goals SMART, it’s important to recognize the value of setting milestones for each goal. Goals should be impactful which will take time (a month or quarter) to achieve. While having goals in place can boost motivation, sometimes your teammates can become overwhelmed if the goal is too big. That’s where milestones come into play.

For each goal, encourage your team members to come up with the smaller milestones that will need to be completed to deliver the goal. This can be as simple as:

Goal: Get 100 people to participate in our quarterly webinar


  • Confirm speaker by ...
  • Create email list, invites and reminders by ...
  • Create banners for social media campaign by ...
  • Breaking goals down into smaller steps will help everyone stay focused and give them direction as well as a sense of accomplishment along the way. This approach reinforces a greater sense of autonomy and ownership which today’s talent craves.

    Create regular learning opportunities

    Constantly helping your people develop is not only a priority for both HR and People Managers but also one of the main things top candidates are looking for in an employer. Despite the hype, this does not have to result in expensive external training.

    Consider holding regular voluntary learning sessions during which you share tips and tricks on how you organize yourself, balance priorities, set goals, give feedback or any advice you think could help your team improve. Open it up for your team members to also share their own insights. Inviting inspirational speakers is great but, if you lack the budget or space, joining conferences and meetups or even sharing powerful TEDTalks can boost motivation and creativity.

    It’s ok to break the bad news BUT provide a solution

    While you should never avoid sharing when things aren’t going well, you should balance this with the belief that you can overcome these challenges by leveraging your team’s strengths. This shouldn’t be a generic “I believe we can do anything” talk, it should be honest and real. How do you do this? It’s essential that managers know the strengths of each of their teammates and are able to strategize about how each of these strengths can be put to use to overcome challenges as a team.

    For example, if you’re not set to bring in your target number of leads by the end of the month, propose a new campaign that could utilize your PR team’s strength in event planning and your sales lead’s great oratory skills. Bonus points: Research by Gallup shows that recognizing your people's strengths boosts engagement and thereby also productivity, profitability, and quality of work.

    Allow your people to create their own purpose

    Finding purpose in one’s work is one of the biggest drivers of motivation. If you really believe in what you’re doing and the impact it could have on society, you’re going to have the motivation to go the extra mile. Deloitte’s 2017 report on millennials emphasized a strong connection between employee loyalty and purpose and asserted that, “It is well documented that businesses with a genuine sense of purpose tend to demonstrate stronger long-term growth, and employees can usefully tap into this.”

    For example, after experiencing a lack of development advice while working in the corporate sector, my manager, and one of the co-founders of our company, was motivated to create a solution that would enable managers and peers to provide more frequent and real-time performance feedback. Meanwhile, I joined the company with an interest in how our tool could be used to create more equitable workplaces.

    Rather than encouraging me to focus only on the original purpose of our solution, my manager has encouraged my interest in this aspect of our product by supporting my proposals for research and projects on this topic. While both of us are motivated by the same purpose: providing greater access to performance feedback and growth, we are able to find motivation from different angles of the same purpose. Remember that a major benefit of diversity is the ability to see your solution from different angles. Taking each team member’s perspective into account and letting it take off has enriched our purpose and product.