Engagement and motivation. Two factors that can make or break so much — retention, productivity, performance, innovation, speed to market, sales growth — and in so many industries. And yet, all too often these two factors are relegated to HR and addressed with meaningless team activities (Pajama Fridays, anyone?) and rigid compensation structures.

Such companies miss the point that engagement and motivation are every leader’s responsibility, not just that of the HR department. But so many managers simply don’t know how to get these two magic ingredients out of their employees. Some use the carrot (do this and you’ll get a bonus) and some use the stick (do that or you’ll be penalized). As it turns out, neither works particularly well for very long.

Why? As these books will demonstrate, engagement and motivation require a holistic approach. It’s about the big picture and the little one. It’s about culture and relationships as much as it’s about structure and rewards. But most of all, it’s about people — what makes humans tick in general and what’s important to them as individuals.

Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel H. Pink (Riverhead Books)

In this New York Times bestseller, Pink turns to science to prove that high performance and job satisfaction are inexorably linked through three key human needs: autonomy (to direct our own lives), mastery (to learn, improve and create new things), and purpose (do better by ourselves and our world). This is known as intrinsic motivation, and Pink then goes on to offer techniques — some very surprising — to use these scientific insights to create “drive” in others and ourselves. There’s also a “toolkit” at the back of the book with specific ideas and tips for individuals, organizations, and even parents. (For motivating your customers and prospects, also check out Pink’s To Sell Is Human: The Surprising Truth About Motivating Others).

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It’s Okay to Be the Boss: The Step-by-Step Guide to Becoming the Manager Your Employees Need by Bruce Tulgan (Collins)

Picking up on the autonomy theme, there are a lot of ways managers can get this wrong when put in practice. Being “hands-off” and letting people “manage themselves” can push the pendulum too far to the other extreme. A lack of structure soon devolves into a lack of results. Tulgan breaks down the essentials of what you need to focus on to prevent an “undermanagement epidemic” in your own organization: spell out expectations, provide instruction, monitor and measure performance constantly, correct failure quickly and reward success even more quickly. He shows how to do all of this without micromanaging or demotivating employees. How? By setting them up for success, giving them all the tools they need, and rewarding them with what they truly want when they get there.

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The X Factor of Employee Engagement: Why Fostering Employee Motivation Should be Every Company’s Goal by Demi Gray (Paramount Publisher)

Gray, a human resources executive and consultant, has dedicated much of her career to studying what makes employees tick and what drives them to optimum performance. Gray takes readers through six key influences that she says serve as a frame of reference for attaining employee motivation: Influential leaders who are able to “change the narrative” as it pertains to culture, behaviors, perceptions and values; management who provide supportive training, coaching, goal setting and follow up; the applicable resources (both people and tools) to succeed; flexibility and autonomy to get the work done; recognition for successes; and proper compensation. Learn more in our review and interview with the author.


The Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups by Daniel Coyle (Bantam)

In this New York Times bestselling book, Coyle tackles some very big questions about high-performing teams and what motivates them to do their best work. He studied some of the world’s most successful companies and organizations, including Zappos, U.S. Navy’s SEAL Team Six, the San Antonio Spurs, the comedy troupe Upright Citizens Brigade, and even a gang of jewel thieves. Coyle found three key skills at the heart of what these organizations do: build safety (connection, belonging, identity), share vulnerability (mutual risk, trust, cooperation), and establish purpose (narratives, goals, values). Along the way, he gives plenty of examples and advice to build these skills among leaders in your organization.

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Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action by Simon Sinek (Portfolio)

You may have seen Sinek’s TED Talk, “How Great Leaders Inspire Action,” based on this book; it’s ranked the series’ third most popular video of all time. When we talk about employees needing a sense of purpose, we’re talking about them buying into “the Why.” People won’t truly get behind a product, service, movement or idea until they understand the Why behind it. If you think the Why of an organization is to make money, you’re wrong. That’s a result, not a reason. The Why is a purpose, cause or belief — often one that inspired the business in the first place. It’s an emotional connection that drives passion, commitment and pride in the direction of an organization’s point of difference in the marketplace. If your employees’ “Why” mainly consists of picking up a paycheck, you need this book.

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