In your small business, you probably face the problem of how to motivate employees every day. You may offer incentives for reaching production levels, bonuses for achieving revenue benchmarks and rewards for improving sales. However, you have to know how well your motivation efforts are working. Furthermore, you need to know how motivated employees are before you introduce incentives. Identify problems in measuring motivation so you can prepare to solve those problems.

Internal Motivation

According to “Hire with Your Head,” personal drive is the No. 1 predictor of job performance. This kind of motivation comes from within the employee and is not based on rewards or recognition. Measuring someone’s desire to do well can be difficult, but it’s not impossible. When you interview potential employees, target an accomplishment on their resumes. Ask questions about how they felt while they were working on the project, what kind of hours they put in on it, what they were proudest of about it and how they pushed through the difficult parts. Rate the answers on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being the answers indicating the strongest self-motivation. When you go back to review the candidates for a position, this measurement will help you remember how well each one scored on self-motivation.

External Motivation

External motivation is the desire to work for rewards and avoid being penalized. This type of motivation can be the simplest to measure. You offer a reward -- such as a bonus -- and measure whether the employee reaches set numbers. These numbers can be sales, production of units or positive responses from customer surveys. However, these external motivators can cause employees to seek out tasks that cause them discomfort, both physically and mentally. In fact, you might start hearing phrases like, “no pain; no gain.” Employees who consider painful work to be part of a strong work ethic tend to wear out. The difficulty in measuring external motivation is that it may start to taper off after the employees achieve the first goal. You must continue to measure the effectiveness of motivators like bonuses to see if fewer employees respond to them over time. External motivators tend to lose their effectiveness, and your measurements should be evaluated over time to see if this is happening in your business.


One way to measure motivation is to note how many times an employee volunteers to do a task. You should make a note for each time an employee takes on extra work. Look at how many times each employee does something outside of his job description, such as cleaning up the area, moving safety hazards or helping another employee who is having difficulty with a task. This type of measure can give you a good idea of which employees go the extra mile. The difficulty in this kind of measurement is it tends to be random. You may be passing by and notice such a behavior, but you may miss such behaviors when you are not around. An antidote for this problem is to formalize the process in performance reviews. Include questions in your review that ask the employee to describe extra tasks she has taken on.


Many companies offer questionnaires that are designed to measure motivation. The difficulty with these is that 95 percent of employees do not score high, according to “Streetwise Motivating and Rewarding Employees.” The reason for this is that tests are normalized. That is, they are constructed to produce results that provide a bell curve, a graph that shows a bulge in the middle where most people are grouped and fewer people at the poor and excellent ends. Even if your employees are extraordinarily motivated, questionnaires will give you a bell curve when you look at the responses. Most employees will be in the middle. However, this does not mean they are average when compared to other companies’ employees. You can’t compare bell curves. The “average” inside your company could be performing above average in comparison to other companies.