How can public employees be motivated to pursue important public purposes with intelligence and energy? When employees are motivated to work, a greater State capacity and a better public provision can be achieved. Motivation concerns how behavior starts, energizes, sustains and directs people to attain goals with drive and persistence and the kind of subjective reaction present in the organism while all this is going on. Current literature in public administration, human resource management and psychology argue that motivation fosters employee work performance and, even more, that it affects the degree to which an employee can contribute to an organization’s success. This paper explains the importance of employee motivation, specifically in the public sector, and explores how this concept affects different factors of human resource management such as goal setting, training and development, organizational climate and culture, team-building, appreciation, feedback, rewards and fairness. This analysis is then contrasted with the reality of a specific organization belonging to a specific context: the Colombian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. For this, the Colombian public sector background – and the Ministry’s in particular – in regards to public employee motivation is illustrated. Through a qualitative research approach, the Human Resources Direction, 4 other top-level management and 34 employees are asked to indicate the main motivators of the staff and the factors that most affect their motivation to work. The results show that, due to the particularities of the Colombian context, there are certain factors that deeply affect the staff´s motivation. Such factors, nonetheless, validate what has been concluded by motivation, psychology and HRM literature and research. Employees in the Ministry, just as any other human being, seek to carry out interesting and purposeful tasks; want to grow and achieve goals; and long for an environment whose climate and culture provides appreciation, feedback and fairness. In this regard, 8 recommendations are provided to help the MFA improve its employees’ motivation and thus productivity, performance and – equally important – happinness (for high motivation is a sign of happier people). Although the recommendations are specific for the MFA, considering that the findings confirm motivation literature and are in accordance with the problems portrayed of the Colombian public sector context, it is also plausible to take them into account for other public sector agencies in Colombia and abroad.