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Motivation and drivers

Setting up the right company values is important but making sure that people are motivated to impersonate these values is just as important. To be a great leader, it is important to keep your people motivated on a daily basis. So, how do you keep your employees motivated on a daily basis?

Daniel Pink wrote a book called Drive and spoke at a Ted talk about the puzzle of motivation where he highlights some interesting insights that can help leaders understand how to best motivate their employees.

Intrinsic drivers

Once you’ve financially compensated your employees fairly for the amount and type of work they need to do, additional financial incentives may lead to poorer performance. Research has shown that additional financial incentives may improve the speed and quality of more straight forward left brain tasks but lead to poorer performance for more creative out of the box right brain tasks. So what pushes people who need to do more right brain tasks to perform better? Daniel Pink discovered that there are 3 key drivers that keeps people motivated:


Autonomy is the urge to direct our own lives. Many managers and employees may find autonomy scary because of how autonomy is usually associated with complete independence (employees being allowed to roam free without any guidance and mentorship), teams need to identify the level of autonomy that is ideal. The ideal level of autonomy differs for each company, as it depends on what stage the company is currently at and how much resources they have. For example, Google and Atlassian are two companies that famously allow their engineers to spend 20% of their time building anything they want related to the organization. These 20% pockets of time are set aside for them to have autonomy over their time, tasks, team and techniques. Giving their engineers time to be truly autonomous has brought about new and high impact products like Gmail and Google News. Some companies take autonomy to a whole new level with a Results Only Work Environment (ROWE) where people don’t have schedules or set meetings and are free to work remotely as long as they get their work done.


Mastery is the desire to get better and better at something that matters. Mastery is a mindset where you perceive your abilities as infinitely improvable. Mastery is painful, as it demands effort, grit, and deliberate practice. It is important for your team to individually work on things that make them feel like they are getting better at something that matters to them. Since each person has different interests, make sure you figure out what kind of skills each team member wants to master and create opportunities for them to build those skills.


Purpose is the yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves. It is human nature to have the desire of being part of something bigger than ourselves. We feel like we have fulfilled our purpose when we do something that matters, in the service of a cause larger than ourselves. It is the leader’s job to create a purpose that is big and meaningful enough for all his/her employees to strive toward. As the famous NASA janitor anecdote goes, during the preparation of the Apollo missions, a janitor proudly said that by performing his role as a janitor, what he was doing is putting a man on the moon.

Financial incentives

It is important to compensate your team fairly since most people have jobs to earn money and fair financial compensation can help make them feel that their work brings positive impact to the company. Different companies have 


Offer competitive salaries and if your company does not have enough capital to compete with the giants in the industry, make sure that the base compensation is fair for the amount of work and type of work your employee will be doing. You can compensate slightly lower base salaries by having bigger intrinsic drivers (explained below) and hiring people who do not mind trading off financial compensation with learning.


Be mindful that the way leadership structure bonuses can greatly affect the way a team operates. For example, it might be advisable to incentivize the sales team with bonuses related to revenue generating KPI, whereas the same may not be true for the engineering team. For the engineering team, if your company’s culture is to break things and learn quickly, code production volume might be a good way to incentivize execution and further dissemination of the company’s “move fast” culture. Generally, a bonus may be set when a team hits a specific goal or when the company does well. If aligned with the company’s values, managers can also set personal learning and KPI goals for each individual employee and reward them with a bonus when the goal is reached.


Equity can be a hard concept to grasp because unlike cash, you only reap the rewards in the future. Founders should be generous with sharing equity with people they believe want to build. Giving equity might make the difference of having a large piece of something small or a smaller piece of a bigger machine. Equity makes people feel like they are owners versus employees of the company they are building. Furthermore, having employees that want equity is a sign that they believe in the company and want to be in for the long haul. Xendit has a monthly equity workshop and internal equity calculators to help employees understand what option is the best for them. Xendit’s co-founder, Moses, believes that founders need to dream beyond themselves, they need to dream about how to share the success with the people who build the company with them and reward them in the right way. Read our article on equity and stock options to understand if it is the right option for you.

Lack of motivation

Each person’s mix of the key drivers is different. Leaders should try to decouple what is the cause of the lack of motivation of their employees by breaking down which part of the motivation puzzle is missing:

  • Are their employees bored?
  • Are their employees learning anything?
  • Do their employees feel that they have no autonomy as they are micromanaged by their manager?
  • Do they know the purpose of their work or do they not see the point in anything?

Figuring out what drives and motivates your employees and then helping them fulfill those drives might make a huge difference for your business.

The article above was derived from a discussion held during our XenTalks with Shiyan Koh and Moses Lo.

Shiyan is Managing Partner at Hustle Fund; a pre-seed firm founded by former 500 Startups partners Elizabeth Yin and Erich Bahn. Prior joining Hustle Fund, Shiyan was the VP of Business Operations and Corporate Development at NerdWallet, a personal finance company where she was employee #10, and now worth in excess of USD500 million. Shiyan holds an MBA at Harvard Business School and a BA from Stanford University. She writes blogs in her spare time.

Moses is the CEO and founder of Xendit, one of Forbes Asia’s 30 under 30. Moses has expertise in diverse sectors, from being in BCG to years of exposure in working and gaining experiences in various Silicon Valley companies, such as PayPal, Amazon, Expedia, Microsoft, IBM, and Ripple Labs. Xendit is the first Indonesian startup that graduated from Y Combinator (The world’s best incubators in the direction of Paul Graham who invested in companies such as Dropbox, Airbnb, Reddit) in San Francisco.

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