If we look at this the other way round, it is arguable that it is not about motivating employees at all, but rather picking employees who have the capacity to be motivated, and then enabling that motivation by treating them well. Treat the most motivated of staff badly, and they will cease to be motivated.
You cannot force an employee to be motivated. It has to come from within them to start with. Many factors account for the motivational drive in any human; it is more complex that originally appears. Some people are simply born more motivated than others. Social environment has huge influence.
A cultural background with a strong work ethic or indeed one that sees work as a necessary evil to be kept at a minimum will for the most part produce the same – with the odd reactionary in both cases who are motivated to escape their cultural norm, be it to rebel against the work orientated society or alternately to get out of their surroundings and better themselves. It is harder to motivate those from a background that has it deeply ingrained that all bosses are tyrannical enemies.
Schooling has a huge part to play. A school background of being part of a set that celebrates getting out of as much work and responsibility as possible is going to breed adults who continue to do the same. Events in peoples lives can change motivations new parents often settle down and are motivated by making money to make a better life for their children. Personal catastrophe often results in a rejection of materialistic values.
Role models can be hugely influential to the development of personal motivation, from the cool rebel at school to the leaders people wish to emulate. Here of course is where the Branson figurehead has done such wonders for the country combining the two opposite extremes, but it is a rare person that can pull that piece of inspiration off.
As leaders, we do set the culture and vision of our businesses and our staff is inevitably going to be better motivated if they are a fit with that. Therefore motivation starts with good recruitment selection, both in terms of people who are genuinely motivated to do well from their own backgrounds and in terms of a fit of their identifying with the culture and values and wanting to belong. The vision and mission of the company has to make sense to them we have to link the success of attaining these to the employees own desires and where their role fits in achieving them.
Thereafter, peoples individual motivation varies but the feeling of belonging is essential. Recognition is equally important; clear goals, because achieving them is so simple and yet so vital. These cut right across the board. You need to make it possible to achieve them by giving them training.
You can be clever with incentives, through the gamut from duvet days, staff outings to financial perks depending on the individual staff.
But when all is said and done, you will have a better performing work force if you treat them as human beings, or indeed like your customers how you would like to be treated yourself. And if you pick a bum employee, nothing in the world will get them motivated so dont beat yourself up about it.