Fostering Motivation in the Global Workplace

Categories: Diversity & Inclusion, Global Teams

A senior executive at a large global corporation, Maria, struggles to motivate employees in Taipei during training sessions. Maria uses a variety of tactics to motivate employees during training periods, and those ongoing initiatives are largely the same through her branch of the corporation, which employs workers from six different countries and offers financial bonuses for completing training seminars. Maria tends to avoid group and competition-based motivators because her approach to those strategies failed her when she trained employees in Istanbul a few years earlier.

Should Maria try competition-based techniques to motivate her employees in Taipei, even though those strategies were previously ineffective in Istanbul?

Could the strategies necessary to motivate employees as they learn actually differ that greatly from Taiwan to Turkey?

It’s clear that the best motivational strategies vary depending on the cultural background of the workforce. For example, in Taiwan, group incentives are often effective motivational strategies. Family orientation is highly valued, and leaders and managers are expected to act as parental figures in the workplace, establishing guidelines and making everyone feel safe and secure.

In Turkey, there is a similar sentiment: There’s a strong commitment between leaders and employees. Employers are expected to care for their employees and offer security. There’s a paradigm that the workplace should be a home away from home. However, although Turkish society is group oriented, group incentives in the workplace should be carefully monitored because intense rivalry is common between groups.

In addition to examining cross-cultural differences in learning motivation, it’s crucial to recognize that motivation is personal — and there is no one-size-fits-all solution to motivating learners, even among culturally similar groups. Motivation is highly complex, and many factors can affect motivation levels.

Managers should place a priority on fostering motivation in professional development programs and training sessions because work satisfaction has a positive effect on productivity. People who are satisfied with their jobs are more motivated to want to learn and to complete their best work. For example, new research at Google confirms that greater employee happiness results in higher productivity without sacrificing quality of work. In fact, employee satisfaction rose by 37% as a result of investing in employee support.

What Exactly Is Motivation?

We all understand the concept of motivation. We know what it feels like to be motivated, just as we know how it feels to be discouraged or deterred from completing our best work. Employee motivation is the extent to which employees commit to something or someone in their organization, how hard they work, and how long they stay as a result of that commitment.1 Motivation is the reason you act a certain way — it’s a general desire to do something, but where does motivation come from?

What Are the Components of Motivation?

A person must feel complete apathy toward and passionate about learning in order to realize motivation. There are three required components to motivation:

  1. The learner should have a sense of competence. Competence is the ability to do something completely or efficiently, and it includes both capability and resources. A person must have a sense of competence in order to be motivated. In a business setting, employees must believe they have the knowledge and skills necessary to learn the topic at hand, as well as the resources required to supplement their learning.
  2. There should be connection between the learner and the material. Relatedness refers to the learner’s need to find relevancy in the material they’re learning.
  3. The learner should have control of their learning. Learners appreciate having control over their own choice to learn. If they feel like they’re being forced into learning something — or that they have no control over their own learning — they’re less likely to enjoy the process. If a learner feels competent to learn, but they don’t have any control over the situation, they will seek a reinforcement or external motivator to complete the task. However, in some cultures, learners appreciate structured, formalized training activities identified and provided for them. Therefore, it is important to provide the right balance dependent upon the region’s cultural implications.

Intrinsic Motivation Relies on an Innate Drive

Intrinsic motivation comes from within and includes a passion for the subject. People who are intrinsically motived to explore a topic naturally see its relevance in their world. Mastering the topic would be a great personal accomplishment to them. Learners who are intrinsically motivated care about the topic, genuinely want to learn more about it and naturally feel good when they succeed at the task.

For example, if an employee in Taipei is intrinsically motivated to complete a training session on conflict resolution in groups, he or she won’t need an external reward to sign up for the training and engage with the learning materials. He or she will innately believe in the value of the training session and will genuinely want to complete it for no reason other than a self-desire to learn the information.


  • It sustains itself. The learning itself is the benefit of intrinsic motivation. Intrinsically motivated learners don’t need rewards for completing tasks. They innately crave the knowledge.
  • Intrinsically motivated employees are more autonomous. They’re more likely to attempt to solve problems on their own because they have a genuine, innate desire to learn. They are also more likely to identify their own developmental needs.
  • Intrinsically motivated learners tend to be more creative. Because they don’t require outside influence, intrinsically motivated learners have a natural tendency to be more creative. They are likely to make valuable contributions to the group or organization because they’re personally satisfied with their accomplishments.
  • It’s hard to control. Intrinsic motivation comes from within, so it’s difficult to control. No matter what you do, some learners will never innately care about certain topics. It can be very slow to affect behavior if employees have no genuine interest.
  • A variety of approaches is needed. A group of learners is composed of individuals, so a variety of approaches is needed even when a group is intrinsically motivated. Intrinsic motivation can also lead to a constant need to learn or discontent with complacency if there is no growth opportunity within a role. It’s important to discover individuals’ interests and connect them to the subject matter in a way that’s valuable to them.

Extrinsic Motivation Relies on External Rewards

Extrinsic motivation comes from outside the individual. It is driven by external rewards such as financial gain or praise. Instead of completing a task or learning about a topic because of a personal interest or an innate yearning, a person who is extrinsically motivated will work hard because they want to earn a promotion or they’re seeking praise from a manager. For example, an employee might sign up for a training seminar because he or she believes it will help them be recognized for a promotion.


  • It can quickly produce behavior changes. Without much preparation, you can implement extrinsic motivators to achieve an end goal. For example, if you want employees to complete a training session by a certain date, you can offer a bonus or an extra vacation day in exchange for completion.
  • Extrinsic motivation allows for a greater degree of control in the workplace. When your employees are extrinsically motivated, you must closely monitor them in order to keep their performance high. This allows managers to work closely with them, guiding them along the way and leading to greater productivity.
  • It can be distracting. When extrinsic motivators are involved, it takes emphasis away from the learning materials at hand. The topic of learning or the end goal becomes secondary, taking attention away from what really matters.
  • It doesn’t typically work over the long term. Once learners lose the reward involved, they typically lose interest. This can lead to employees seeking a reward for every task completed or losing their motivation altogether when there isn’t a reward offered.

Can Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivators Work in Tandem?

Everyone is intrinsically and extrinsically motivated. A mixture of internal and external factors, which largely depend on personality and self-concept, motivates human beings. Every behavior has an underlying cause. Understanding the cause of behaviors is vital to changing or improving outcomes.

Take the example of Maria as she struggles to motivate employees in Taiwan. If she’s only considering the problem on the surface — a lack of motivation during training sessions — she can’t begin to understand what isn’t working. Taking a closer look, though, she might find that her employees intrinsically crave more collaboration among team members. A financial bonus for completing the training probably isn’t the best approach in this situation.

Instead, Maria could offer more group incentives, which would require collaboration among team members and satisfy her employees’ intrinsic desire to collaborate during training. She could also experiment with offering a different extrinsic motivator, such as a chance to travel abroad for training, as an incentive.

There is evidence that shows extrinsic rewards negatively affect intrinsic motivation. In a series of experiments by psychologist Edward Deci, he separated two groups of students and had each group work on a puzzle. In one group, students were paid for each puzzle they completed. In the other group, they were not paid to complete the puzzles.

The group that was paid to solve the puzzles stopped working on the puzzles when the experiment ended, but the students who weren’t paid continued to solve the puzzles after it was finished. The group that wasn’t paid became intrinsically motivated to complete the puzzles because they found them fun or interesting. Deci deduced that the paid group might have eventually found the puzzles interesting, but the reward overshadowed a possible intrinsic motivation that never had the opportunity to surface.

If you’re interested in learning more about how learners are motivated and the best ways to foster motivation in the global workplace, it’s necessary to examine what you’re doing wrong — and how to improve your strategies.

The Most Effective Ways to Motivate Employees in Training Programs

Many training managers today spend too much time creating reward strategies that they believe will motivate learners. The reality, however, is that offering too many external rewards comes with consequences, and it’s crucial to be aware of those potential consequences as a training manager. External rewards can be effective in fostering motivation in professional development programs, but they should be used with caution. Using rewards can establish unrealistic expectations, as well as place value on the reward instead of the learning itself.

Here are a few tips for motivating learners in training programs:

  • Discover your intention.

    Ask yourself why you’re offering the training. If you can’t find the purpose in it, or the purpose doesn’t seem to benefit to the trainees, it will be difficult to present the information in a meaningful way. If it isn’t relevant to the trainees, they won’t be intrinsically motivated to learn the material. Make it your goal to uncover your intention before offering a training. Your intention will drive the way you design and implement your training.

  • Make the training focused on the participants.

    Learners need to know why the training is valuable. What’s in it for them? Why is it important? If, for example, you’re teaching a mandatory training about a compliance topic, which is largely for the benefit of your company, it will be hard for employees to see its value. Your intention may be to deliver a mandatory training about compliance, but be sure to look beyond the surface and uncover how employees can discover value in it. Aim to empower them to feel confident in their knowledge of compliant behavior, as well give them the autonomy to use it. Show them you’re on their side — that you’re in it with them and that the training is all about them and their learning, not only about providing a benefit to the company. If you connect business results with a benefit to the people in your training group and make it relevant to them, you’re more likely to see positive results.

  • Emphasize practical knowledge.

    Adult learners value real world application over theories and facts. Instead of only presenting them with information, offer them possible scenarios and advice on how to apply information to their everyday work. If learners can gain practical knowledge from the training and improve some aspect of their lives, they’re more likely to find value in what you’re teaching.

  • Use humor when it’s appropriate, but be cautious.

    Nothing loses an audience faster than a dry, boring presentation. Aim to add the element of humor into your training materials, but be sure it’s appropriate for the setting. Many jokes don’t translate well because of differences in cultural norms and social structures. Also, some cultures are sensitive to certain subjects, while others aren’t and enjoy a good laugh about those same subjects. For example, employees in Turkey are easily offended by any comments about their national history, even if those comments are seemingly harmless to others.

  • Consider individual interests and career goals.

    Remember that regardless of general motivational factors, a group of learners is composed of unique individuals with different goals. Learn what you can about your group, and then tailor your training to their needs and goals. If you’re instructing a diverse training session that includes employees close to retirement as well as millennials looking for advancement, be sure to address the needs of both during the training session.

  • Use authentic examples.

    Your training will come to life and demand attention if you use authentic company examples. If you’re teaching a seminar on cultural competence to a group in Hong Kong preparing to work in the United States, your session shouldn’t focus on any other countries. Do some background research to adequately prepare, and use authentic examples they have faced or are likely to face as they transition to work in the United States.

  • Build community among the training group.

    Lectures are no longer the standard in modern-day education. Your training sessions should allow members to collaborate. Sharing their own stories and experiences will foster motivation, as well as build a sense of community among the group. Allow them to ask questions. Allow other members of the group to answer when appropriate. Consider including social media as a way to build community outside of the training session. For example, you could create a private Facebook group where members can continue conversations outside of the training session.

  • Use a variety of training tools.

    Learners retain information in different ways. Eighty-three percent of learning occurs visually. Some people prefer auditory means to learning, and others yet prefer kinesthetic techniques. Most people, however, prefer a combination of all three types of learning, so be sure to engage learners using various materials, such as videos, infographics, podcasts, lectures, supplemental reading materials, guest speakers and more.

Fostering motivation in professional development programs and addressing cross-cultural differences in learning motivation must consider the environment in which the learning is taking place. Virtual training sessions come with unique challenges that differ from traditional face-to-face settings.

Adapting Your Approach for Virtual, Instructor-Led Training

Cross-cultural differences in online learning motivation should be addressed to adequately support online groups in global companies. While many of the motivational strategies will be the same as in face-to-face situations, virtual global training settings come with unique challenges. Here are a few tips to keep in mind:

  • Be sure remote teams have access to appropriate learning materials. It’s crucial to offer virtual teams the same learning outcomes that learners are offered in face-to-face meetings. If you typically distribute a useful handout or share a personal story during a face-to-face session, offer something that will give virtual learners the opportunity to view the handout or hear the same story. Your delivery of the material may vary, but the learning outcomes should be the same. If you bring in a guest speaker for your face-to-face sessions, ask the speaker to conduct a live virtual meeting to present the speech to online learners.
  • Build a virtual team culture. Meaningful learning is more likely to take place when group members feel comfortable. Building a team culture in the virtual setting allows group members to become motivated and focused. Virtual training sessions often lack cohesiveness, and building a team culture can combat that fact. Encourage casual conversations before and after training events, and opt for video conferences when possible.
  • Utilize technology. There’s a plethora of tools available today to optimize motivators in virtual training sessions. Consider web conferencing, file sharing, and instant messaging/chat as methods to providing better access and more options for virtual groups. Training and conference rooms can be used effectively to keep learners engaged, through use of frequent polling questions, chat functionalities, whiteboards, etc.

Learn More About Fostering Motivation with Aperian Global

We offer a variety of tools to enhance virtual collaboration and help you foster motivation in the global workplace. We offer specific facilitated programs for teams, including the following:

  • GlobeSmart: Access information about 95+ different cultures around the world and learn about differing financial/nonfinancial incentives, motivators/demotivators and more.
  • Collaborating Across Distance: Organizations can arm their employees with the strategies and tools to succeed in a virtual or remote work environment.
  • Working Effectively With Country X: Professionals of all levels learn to work optimally with individuals in a specific country, with a focus on fostering positive relationships, bridging cultural gaps, and learning to effectively communicate.
  • GlobeSmart Profile Debrief: With this program, you will learn about how culture influences common behaviors, how to overcome cultural gaps and more. Users also learn about their own unique working styles in the online cultural inventory GlobeSmart Profile.


1 Corporate Leadership Council Managing for High Performance and Retention: An Overview of Key Drivers of Employee Engagement (2011)