I would like you to think back to a time where you felt you were in the best job in the world. One where you felt motivated to come to work every day.  If you’re lucky enough, you may even be in that job right now.

What was it that made it the best job in the world?

Was it the pay?

Was it the location?

Was it the hours that you worked?

The odds are that it was not any of these things but a combination of three distinct features of your job or work environment that contributed to that feeling of satisfaction.

Understanding what these factors are, as an employee might help you to identify what it is about your current role that you are enjoying or missing. As a leader, it might help you to create the environment for your employees to achieve job satisfaction.

Want to know what they are? Read on.

I’m Back

This is the first blog since March this year (2017 if you’re reading this in a few years time). During this period I have been completing my Master’s Degree in Coaching Psychology at the University of Sydney. I made a conscious decision during this time to hold back on my writing and focus on my studies, not for better marks – although that’s always nice – but because everything I learned had a practical application for coaching my clients.

My aim over the coming weeks is to recommence my writing and impart some of the knowledge I have gained over the preceding months.

Self Determination Theory

I want to start, in this article, with a small element that was common to both the subjects completed this semester (Positive Psychology and The Psychology of Peak Performance) called Self-Determination Theory (SDT). SDT discusses human motivation and, among other things, suggests that people will feel more motivated towards their endeavours if they can meet three basic psychological needs.

Those three needs are Autonomy, Competence and Relatedness.

Let’s look at each of these in detail.

Autonomy is the degree to which people have agency or choice in what they do. They feel empowered to make decisions, and they act in accordance with their values and self-image.

Competence is the ability to use strengths to produce valued outcomes. People who feel competent believe what they are doing is making a difference. They can see how they are growing and developing from their experiences.

Relatedness relates to how much people believe they are part of something bigger than themselves.  They feel connected to others in their social groups.

In the words of some respected researchers on the subject (see further reading below):

“People are expected to do well and feel their best when the socio-cultural conditions of their lives (i.e. family relationships, friendships, workplace culture, political systems, cultural norms) support the inherent needs for freely engaging in interesting activities (i.e. autonomy), producing valued outcomes through the use of their strengths and abilities (i.e. competence), and feeling closely and securely connected to significant others (i.e. relatedness).”

What does it all mean?

People may start off doing what they are told because they have been told to do it. They expect either a reward for doing it or a punishment if they don’t (extrinsic motivation).  As they are empowered to make choices about how they achieve the task (autonomy) and see they can do it, and what they are doing is making a difference (competence), and work alongside people they value and form connections with (relatedness), they will start to internalise the value of what they are doing and become more motivated (intrinsic motivation).

It may be useful at this point to discuss the importance of these basic needs by examining what happens when we don’t have them. Think about when you have been micro-managed at work, have felt that you were unable to achieve your goals or that you couldn’t find anyone with whom you connected. If you were in this environment you wouldn’t feel very motivated to come to work, would you? Workplaces like this experience high absenteeism and presenteeism, high separation rates, low productivity and low discretionary effort, and high complaint rates against other members of staff. At best in these environments, you will have team members who display no innovation or initiative. At worst you may have a workforce that experiences psychological distress and mental health issues.

As leaders, we need to take a critical look at our workplaces and our cultures and understand if they are supportive of our teams meeting their basic psychological needs or if they are disruptive of them.

Facilitating the basic needs

The following is not meant to be an exhaustive list of how to increase employees’ perceptions of autonomy, competence and relatedness. It does, however, provide a starting point and if you are interested in learning more, then there are some resources at the bottom of the page you can call on.


Autonomy is not about doing what ever you want. That would be anarchy. Autonomy is about providing choice and respecting the choices that people make. It is about allowing people to feel in control. This can be accomplished through agreeing on goals and then allowing individuals and teams to make decisions about how they achieve those goals within agreed constraints. Use of coaching or coach style questioning to help individuals and teams to make decisions about what they are going to do conveys task ownership.


As stated earlier, people will feel competent when they feel they are making a difference, are using their strengths, and can see how they are growing and developing from the experience. Leaders can facilitate competence by ensuring that their teams have the right training and that they get to use that training to achieve the goals that they have set for themselves. Additionally, as leaders, we should help our people set goals that stretch, but not break, them. As they achieve those stretch targets, our team members will come to realise they have skills they didn’t know they had and, in turn, want to apply those skills.


Fostering teamwork, breaking down silos and promoting collaboration will all contribute to being part of something bigger than the individual effort. Leaders, also, however, have a role in understanding what individuals within their teams value at a personal level. While organisations have espoused values, these are not what gets their employees out of bed in the morning to come to work. As a leader, you can help your team members feel a part of something bigger than themselves. Get to know them, understand what is important to them and assist them to link their values to the organisational outcomes.

So, now what?

Take some time to reflect. If you are a leader in your organisation, do you feel like you experience autonomy, competence and relatedness? If you do, great. Does your team? If not, then, as a leader, you have a role to play in creating an environment where they can. The research suggests that both the organisation and its people will both benefit.

If you don’t think you’re experiencing these basic psychological needs, then there is a chance your team isn’t as well. Ask yourself, what’s within your control to facilitate those needs within your team. Perhaps, you could set yourself a stretch target of having a constructive conversation with your boss about this concept. There is some further reading below if you want to learn more.

What tips do you have for fostering a motivation rich environment in the workplace?  What have you seen that works?  Please, share your ideas with us so that all of us in the Campbell Leadership Clan can learn from your experiences.

Is there someone who you feel could benefit from the information contained in this blog?  If so, please feel free to share it with them and, even better, sit down and discuss with them the way they could help facilitate autonomy, competence and relatedness with their teams.

If you would like more information or would like to discuss any of the concepts mentioned above, please feel free to contact Anthony at Campbell Leadership Solutions so that we can see how we might be able to help you.

And, as always, thank you for reading and leading.

Further Reading

Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2000). Self-Determination Theory and the Facilitation of Intrinsic Motivation, Social Development, and Well-Being. American Psychologist, 55(1), 68-78.

Spence, G. B., & Deci, E. L. (2013). Self Determination Theory Within Coaching Contexts: Supporting Motives and Goals that Promote Optimal Functioning and Well-being. In S. David, D. Clutterbuck, & D. Megginson (Eds.), Beyond Goals: Effective Strategies for Coaching and Mentoring (pp. 85-108). London: Gower Publishing.