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Two months back I was asked this question in an Amazon interview:

How will you motivate the High performer in your project?

My answer, which I follow on the ground level:

  1. There are different motivations for different people. The top motivations for high performers I can think of are:

    a. For some, challenging tasks will be a high motivation or giving more responsibility is a high motivation.

    b. For some, constant appreciation/reward is motivation.

    c. For some, travel is motivation. For some, appraisal/promotion is motivation.

    d. For some, team leading or role change is motivation.

    e. For some, getting training to keep his/her knowledge up-to-date is motivation.

  2. I will identify what does motivate him/her based on the above criteria and will try to align that activity to him/her after having a word with my seniors, if it is doable.

  3. If not, see when it can be done in the future and let him/her know.

He told me it is a generic answer. I tried to search more what Amazon expects and how they motivate the high performers but I did not get any pointers here?

  • How would we know, what Amazon expects in their interviews? – nvoigt Aug 13 '18 at 13:58
  • @nvoigt If any person working in amzon or left the amazon, it will be great to hear from him. Even if that is not possible, folks can express their views how to motivate the high performers ? what they do apart from the stuff I mentioned above. – user3198603 Aug 13 '18 at 14:16
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    Well if they don't want a generic answer, they probably shouldn't ask generic questions... Anyway I think this question would probably be more suited for The workplace – Laurent S. Aug 13 '18 at 14:24
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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because we can't answer for Amazon's interviewer. – Sarov Aug 13 '18 at 14:58
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    I don't quite agree it is off topic, it just needs re-framed. We cannot answer on behalf of Amazon (true) but let's be adults about it. We, as the collective community for leading teams and motivating software developers, should be able to generate some sort of empirical answer for the crux of the question. – Venture2099 Aug 15 '18 at 14:13
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Many interview questions are less about the answer you give and more about your thought process. I didn't do your interview, so I don't know what the interviewer was looking for, but I could guess that they wanted to hear more about your management style. Your answer is sort of the standard safe answer. Boiled down, it sounds like "People have many motivations, I'll ask them." What they were probably hoping to hear was:

  • what models of team performance do you subscribe to?
  • how familiar are you with intrinsic and extrinsic motivators and how they play on each other?
  • what are your personal views on what motivates you?
  • how will you engage people to find out what they do and do not want in their job?

As a small example, if I was interviewing you and you mentioned creating opportunities for autonomy, mastery, and purpose in their work and then gave an example or two of how you'd done that in the past (or might do it in the future) then I would interpret that as: you've read Drive or at least watched the 10-minute video version and tried incorporating it into your work.

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Daniel Pink talks about motivation by:

  • Mastery: The urge to get better skills.
  • Autonomy: Our desire to be self directed. It increases engagement over compliance.
  • Purpose: The desire to do something that has meaning and is important.

I use the mnemonic MAP.

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A generic question would yield a generic answer. This question and the interviewers response show just how poor the predictive validity of interviews are.

If I were asked this question, I would have answered it similarly as you but would have referenced leading motivation theorists and summaries of the theories. And that's because theories should be driving our work behaviors. Then I may ask additional questions about this specific individual to show how I may apply the theories.

Another interview would have accepted your answer as perfectly reasonable.

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I agree with Daniel about it being more about the thought process. And the above answers talk about what is established in the book Drive, however, you are ultimately working with individuals so categories help only to have a "high level" understanding of the major influential aspects that drive performance. The actual key element to motivate anyone is to put best practices into work that allow managers to understand their employees and employees to understand what motivates them.

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"People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care." All people, not just high performers thrive, when they know their management chains knows and understands them as a person first, then as a worker. It is a fine line to keeping just short of being friends with your subordinates but that doesn't mean you still can't know their kids/spouse names, hobbies, background, interests, plans, etc.

"Public praise, private admonition" again applies to all people. When your people know there are no buses coming by that they'll be thrown under they will work even harder for you. Better they'll tell their friends "You should have a manager like mine" and the high performers will come to you.

This is not an overnight process. This is not an Amazon process.

This is a human process.

That's one reason why we have HR departments -- so HR can teach this to managers.

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