How to Motivate Employees in the Workplace Beyond the Paycheck

Two men in an office talk about how to motivate employees in the workplace.

Alright, let’s talk about something that’s a hot topic in many boardrooms but often gets a bit of an eye-roll from the people it's supposed to inspire—Key Performance Indicators, or KPIs as we know them. They’re vital, no doubt, but how do KPIs help with performance management to really get the best out of our teams? Well, it’s less about ticking boxes and more about tapping into what really motivates your employees.

Breaking Down How to Motivate Employees in the Workplace

Let’s kick things off by dispelling a myth: throwing more money at people isn’t a magic bullet for better productivity. Sure, we all like a nice bonus, but does it keep us going through the grind? Not always. What really lights a fire under most folks is something a bit more personal, something that resonates with what they value and care about.

This is where intrinsic motivation comes into play—doing something because it’s inherently interesting or enjoyable, not just because of a carrot dangling at the end of a stick. This shift is crucial not only for employee motivation but also for enhancing overall employee engagement.

Why Traditional KPIs Might Not Cut It in Performance Management

We’ve all been there—targets are set, everyone’s initially on board, aiming for those numbers. But over time, motivation wanes. Why? Because traditional KPIs often feel like a straitjacket, not reflecting what team members deem important. They end up being seen more as an instrument of torture than a meaningful part of one’s work. And that’s a problem. This disconnect can negatively impact employee engagement, making it harder to keep employees motivated.

The Strategic Shift: KPIs That Matter Personally

The crux of the matter is aligning KPIs with what genuinely matters to employees, creating a direct pathway to motivate them more effectively. This means having conversations, understanding their aspirations, and what gets them out of bed in the morning. When KPIs reflect personal goals or values, they become much more than just numbers—they’re personal milestones. This is a key way to motivate and ensure employees feel valued and understood. Proper employee recognition in this context goes beyond the paycheck.

For instance, let’s say your team values creativity and innovation. A KPI related to the number of new ideas implemented or improvements suggested could spark much more enthusiasm than simply hitting sales targets. This approach not only enhances employee performance but also boosts overall workplace morale. Check out our Ultimate KPI Guide for help on how to develop KPIs that will drive your business towards its strategic goals and give employees a sense of achievement.

A woman celebrates hitting her target, demonstrating how do KPIs help with performance.

How Do KPIs Help with Performance Management?

How do KPIs help with performance management? Our founder, Bernie Smith, literally wrote a book on it. That book is called GAMED: Why Targets & Incentives Fail and How to Fix Them. Bernie really gets why KPIs are game-changers for productivity.

He believes KPIs should do more than just tally up scores. They should shine a light on how things are going and guide us towards better ways of working. By linking KPIs to what really matters to folks at work, they turn into powerful motivators, not just dry stats. If you're struggling to see this play out within your targets and incentives at work, here's a great blog post by Bernie exploring 8 Performance Incentive Problems that Kill Results.

Essentially, KPIs help everyone understand their part in the big picture, making work more meaningful and driving the whole team towards real, sustainable success. It’s about using KPIs to steer the ship, not just to keep score.

Examples that Speak Volumes

While KPIs can be game-changing for the better, they can also steer a ship towards calamity when they are used ineffectively. There are eight eye-opening real-world examples of this inside GAMED but we’ve included one of them right here.

Let's take a closer look at a classic misstep with KPIs through the ORCON system used by British ambulances. This setup was meant to speed up responses but ended up just stressing out the staff hugely. We’re about to see how aiming to make things faster with strict targets actually made things rough for the folks on the ground.

A Look Back at ORCON: When Targets Miss the Mark

Back in 1974, the British ambulance service decided it was time to get smart about how quickly they responded to emergencies. Enter ORCON, a set of targets meant to speed things up. The big idea? Respond to 75% of life-threatening calls within 8 minutes and 95% within 19 minutes. Sounds good on paper, right? Well, not so much in practice.

For over 43 years, ORCON ruled the roost, becoming something of a sacred cow in the ambulance world. But here’s the rub: the system cared more about how fast ambulances arrived than what happened once they got there. This led to some pretty warped outcomes, like racing to a call in under 8 minutes only to find that there was little the crew could do for a patient who needed different help or had been in dire straits for a while.

A British ambulance under ORCON rushing to a patient.

The Real Impact on the Ground

Ambulance Service staff were confronted with the unintended effects of the ORCON targets on a daily basis for over four decades. The ORCON targets created high levels of frustration and anger, let patients down or delivered potentially poor outcomes. Imagine being a paramedic knowing that the clock was your biggest enemy, not the condition of the person you were trying to save. It was all about hitting those targets, even if it meant bending the rules or making decisions that didn’t exactly scream ‘patient first.’

Dispatchers may well have been tempted to make tough calls, like choosing to send help to less urgent cases just because they could reach them quicker. Or how about sending a motorbike to tick the box on rapid response, knowing full well it couldn’t transport anyone to the hospital?

Change Comes Knocking

It wasn’t until 2017 that things started to change. The old system was ditched for a new one that tried to make sense of what actually helps patients. Now, ambulance crews have targets that are a bit more in tune with what’s needed medically. It’s a step towards mending the disconnect between rushing to the scene and doing something genuinely useful when they get there.

But How Often Should You Review These KPIs?

Here’s where it gets interesting. Reviewing KPIs shouldn’t just be about checking whether targets are met but rather an ongoing conversation about what these metrics mean to each team member. It’s about adaptability—adjusting and recalibrating not just the KPIs but our understanding of what drives our people.

Regular check-ins that focus not just on outcomes but on employee satisfaction with their KPIs can keep motivation high. These sessions provide opportunities to celebrate wins, learn from less-than-stellar results, and most importantly, ensure that the KPIs still resonate with the team. To help you with this, we’ve got 3 Essential Questions you should ask yourself when deciding how often to review your KPIs.

Adopting a more flexible and meaningful approach to KPIs does wonders for company culture. It transforms KPIs from being perceived as a stick used for compliance to a tool for growth and fulfilment. This cultural shift can lead to higher engagement, reduced turnover, and a stronger alignment between personal achievements and organisational success.

An antique brass compass with gold accents against an old world map of the sea.

Action Time: Where To From Here?

Think about the last time you looked at your KPIs. Were they a checklist or a compass? If it’s more of the former, maybe it’s time to rethink your approach. Explore the GAMED book for insights on how to motivate employees in the workplace, or better yet, sign up for the GAMED course to really unpack the process. And for those who want to master these strategies, the KPI Black Belt programme is just around the corner—get it in your diary!

Wrapping Up

So, next time you’re pondering over KPIs, ask yourself: Are these KPIs just measures, or are they motivators? Your answer could redefine how you and your team achieve excellence. The ultimate goal of your KPIs should be to motivate and lead your team towards a shared vision of success. KPIs aren’t just about driving the business forward; they’re about bringing out the best in everyone involved, tapping into that sweet spot of what’s meaningful and what’s measurable. 

Follow Us

KPI Certification

Free KPI Newsletter

Online KPI Training

KPI Books