How to Leverage Psychology For Your Training Needs

Implement the principles of autonomy, mastery, and purpose in your training program to start building a better performing organization from the inside out.

Encourage your employees to work together

Are you using perks to spur productivity among your employees? While offering external rewards can increase motivation in some instances, researchers have discovered that this is not always the case. According to career analyst Dan Pink, traditional rewards aren’t as effective as we think.

When your employees are learning online, it is even more critical to foster a team of intrinsically motivated employees. How do you get your employees to look beyond money and praise for motivation? Implement these tips in your organization’s training programs and you will ignite the internal drive of your employees!

A Word On Psychology and Motivation

Psychology defines intrinsic motivation as an internalized predisposition to act in a particular way for the benefit of self and others. Internal motivation is far more powerful than any external motivation you can offer your employees. An intrinsically motivated workforce leads to higher productivity and improved efficiency in your organization. If you can internalize motivation in your employees, they will act on their own will for the betterment of themselves and their organization.

According to the book, Drive, Daniel Pink cites research findings where participants at MIT were given small, medium, and large financial rewards for completing tasks. When people were performing mechanical skills, the rewards successfully encouraged the participants to achieve the goal quickly. By contrast, when cognitive skills were tested, the financial incentives led to worse performance. Shockingly, the individuals who received the largest financial reward performed the most poorly! According to Pink’s research, “the old-school model of carrots and sticks doesn’t work and may even have a detrimental impact on your business.” In particular, the study suggests that additional financial incentives have a detrimental impact on employee performance when they are already paid a substantial base salary.

External motivation like financial rewards can’t compete with Pink’s three intrinsic motivation factors:

  1. Mastery – This is the sense that one can successfully accomplish a certain task.

  2. Autonomy – This is the sense that one is in control and has the freedom to make choices.

  3. Purpose – The person is triggered to do the behavior (i.e. she is cued, reminded, asked, called to action, etc.)

This is not to say that external motivation should not have a part in your training program; it means that you should also concentrate on instilling ways to draw upon your employee’s intrinsic motivation. If your employees are internally motivated, the outcome for your business will be better.

Applying Game Mechanics in Online Training and Internal Motivation

Applying game mechanics to your training program is one of the most effective ways to tap into your employee’s intrinsic motivation. Here’s what Michael Wu, Ph.D., Principal Scientist of Analytics at Lithium, says about the psychology of learning and gamification: “status, achievements, ranks, and reputation are some of the most commonly used game mechanics, but they are really nothing more than esteem in disguise”.

Wu goes on to show the parallel between game mechanics and Pink’s intrinsic motivation factors: purpose, autonomy, and mastery. Discovery, value, and meaning align to purpose and the progression dynamics and levels are simply mastery. According to product management expert Nils Davis, “One of the key components of autonomy is the ability to get into a flow state. And games, again, are among the best examples of this, and they certainly are the example of getting people into flow state more easily than any other activity.”

Ideas to Implement Intrinsic Motivation Elements in Your Training Program

Strive to motivate your employee’s internal drive by incorporating the following aspects into your training. These action tips can be adopted for both internal and external training programs.


We always want to improve. This is why learning to ride a bike is challenging and frustrating at first, but you keep trying anyway. However, if you continue to feel as if you are hitting an insurmountable brick wall, your interest may fade and you will give up. This is why it is important to build a sense of progress in your training and highlight achievement. This will fuel your employee’s inner drive.

How to Bring Mastery to Your Training Program:
  1. Define what mastery of each role means in your business. What are the key benchmarks that one should achieve before “graduating” to the next level? Ensure that your take on mastery is consistent across your business.

  1. Offer different challenges for different people. Consider offering different learning paths and adventures to employees based on their starting skill level. Let your employee’s competence determine the challenge they choose to pursue.

  1. Have realistic goals and objectives. Training should be designed in a staggered manner with every stage having an accomplishment. This will motivate your employees as they go through each stage.

  1. Offer multiple ways for employees to demonstrate learning. Don’t punish people who are not working through the content as quickly as others. Showcase forward movement and incomplete work as a work in progress. Not every employee learns at the same pace, and that is just fine.

  1. Provide employees with additional support and multiple learning strategies. Ensure that you offer different channels to learn such as text, audio, and video. Jump in and offer “lifelines” to help struggling learners. Use diverse ways to assess achievement before progressing. Continuous learning, paired with ample support acts as a motivator and boosts retention.


Self-direction is normal. We all have an inner drive. To tap into this, consider how you can offer your employees some level of control in their learning journey.

Here’s How to Bring Autonomy to Your Training Program:
  1. Provide employees with options – Give your employees the liberty to decide how they demonstrate their understanding of the business material. For example, while some may express their comprehension best through standard assessments, others may enjoy delivering a presentation or writing a story about what they learned. The benefit of this is that you will see different perspectives on the same topic through your employees.

  2. Offer a framework on your organization’s way of thinking and tackling problems – Adopt a company-wide approach for tackling business challenges and show your employees how to use it for problem-solving during training and beyond.
  3. Allow learners to define and set their own goals – When trainees set their own goals, it can be empowering and bring personal accountability into their learning.
  4. Have employees document their progress with an offline or online journal. One of the goals of your education program is to show your employees their potential and growth. Journals and evaluation logs offer students an opportunity to plan and evaluate learning as well as the capability to look back on accomplishments.


People who find purpose in what they do are highly motivated. Being part of something larger than yourself makes you excited to wake up every day and face new challenges and opportunities. Finding purpose through training will help the employee be more productive and help them to achieve his or her goals. There is no substitute for purpose in fostering motivation!

Here’s How to Bring Purpose to Your Training Program:
  1. Develop a clear sense of purpose – Make sure that your company’s mission is clearly communicated to all employees and that culture is infused through your training.

  1. Allow your employees to communicate amongst themselves as well as with the instructor through various channels. By providing this outlet, you are addressing the need for your employees to feel connected to each other and the business.

  1. Create opportunities to collaborate. Encourage your employees to work together on certain parts of the training program. This approach allows your team to be social and creates excellent bonding opportunities.

  1. Include real business examples. With a real-life application of training content, you can better connect learning to what matters in your business. Find ways to engage employees with current trends as well as newsworthy events in your industry.

External incentives are not the only way to drive performance in your organization. Use internal incentives to foster a more holistic approach to learning. Implement the principles of autonomy, mastery, and purpose in your training program to start building a better performing organization from the inside out.

How will you intrinsically motivate your employees? Leave us a comment and let us know!