The New Rules of Motivation: Unleash Employee Reciprocity

April 7, 2015

new rules for employee reciprocity

How well are you engaging your employees? See what expert Rodd Wagner has to say about how to get the best from your team in the new workplace.

Whether a leader recognizes it or not, the success of his or her enterprise depends heavily on the strength of the unwritten social contract with the people who work there. In the last decade, that contract got rewritten by dozens of forces, from the Great Recession to social media to so-called corporate “wellbeing” initiatives.

What an organization needs from its people is unique to the firm. But our research over the past three years uncovered that what people need from their employers largely falls within 12 factors we call the New Rules of Engagement. The better companies follow these imperatives, the more they can expect the best efforts of their employees.

Get Inside Their Heads: Engagement is an individual phenomenon. Each person’s motivations are unique; yet, only 21 percent of Americans strongly agree that “My manager understands me.” Without highly involved managers who adapt the company’s offerings to the individual, nothing else really hits the mark.

Make Them Fearless: Fear takes the brain hostage, stalling productivity and innovation. What’s more, of those Americans most concerned about their jobs, 56 percent wish they were working somewhere else, compared with only 22 percent on the most secure end of the scale.

Make Money a Non-Issue: Pay isn’t much of a day-to-day motivator, but if it becomes an issue, it often becomes the issue. If an employee does not feel his company is looking out for his long-term financial goals, he’s far more likely to plan an exit.

Help Them Thrive: The evidence is strong and accumulating that companies are wearing out and often harming their employees with long work hours and expectations they stay in touch with the office around the clock.

Be Cool: Coolness fuels innovation; those who strongly agree they work at a cool place are 13 times as imaginative as those on the other end of the scale.

Be Boldly Transparent: In the United States, one in four workers agrees with the statement “I’m kept in the dark on important issues at my job.” Understandably, the employees who compose that one-quarter are far less likely to trust the leadership of their companies or to believe everything the firm does is honest and ethical.

Don’t Kill the Meaning: The statement “I value my company’s mission” is twice as powerful as the statement “I am paid fairly” in predicting the average employee’s sense of obligation to work hard for the company, her willingness to work hard for customers, and her pursuit of better ways of getting the job done.

See Their Future: Most organizations have detailed plans for where the company should be in the future – and none for where the employees should be. Among those employees in the United States who are least optimistic about their futures with their current employers, 62 percent are planning to bolt in the next 12 months. Among those most optimistic, it’s less than 3 percent.

Magnify Their Success: Those who are least confident in future recognition are 17 times as likely to be thinking of leaving as those most confident that hard work will be matched with strong praise.

Unite Them: Employees’ feelings of “a strong sense of teamwork” are highly predictive of their customer focus, obligation to the company, and retention. It is even modestly predictive of an employee’s feeling that he is safe from accidents on the job.

Let Them Lead: Employees who feel as though their opinions matter work harder, but not nearly as hard as those who get the chance to take the lead. From the low end to the high end of having the chance to lead, the proportion of people most committed to customer service increases from 7 to 57 percent. The proportion of those feeling the greatest obligation to work hard for the company jumps from 3 to 49 percent. And the number of those who say working at the company brings out their best ideas goes from a measly 3 percent to a large majority of 78 percent.

Take It to Extremes: Few statements are more powerful to determine the intensity of an employee than this one: “I believe I can accomplish more at my current organization than I could somewhere else.”

These rules are so powerfully connected to performance, so directly reflecting employee reciprocity, that we can confidently assert that a company gets the performance it deserves. If your employees are not delivering what you hoped, you ought to ask whether the company has delivered on its end of the unwritten social contract.

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At, the author offers a free online self-assessment of individual employees’ level on each of these New Rules.

The New Rules of EngagementSM is a registered service mark of BI WORLDWIDE, and is used here with permission of the company. The survey questions mentioned here are © Copyright 2014, BI WORLDWIDE and may not be used without permission.

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Keeping your team engaged and focused on the vision of your company will lead to great results. Learn more with these AMA resources and seminars:

About The Author

Rodd Wagner is the New York Times bestselling author of the new book Widgets: The 12 New Rules for Managing Your Employees As If They’re Real People (McGraw-Hill, April 2015).


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