February 25, 2020 7:29 am
To be motivated means to be moved to do something. Internal motivation comes from within a person, not something imposed from outside: a feeling that something is “the right thing to do” (aligns with the person’s morals, ethics or convictions). External motivation originates outside the person and can include laws or organizational regulations: expectations of other people (and probably not shared by the individual). But, as we’ll see, the line between the two types of motivation is blurred.
Military organizations often use the saying “If you are having a problem with a person’s performance, it is usually either a training problem (they don’t know what to do) or it is a motivation problem (they are not motivated to perform). An unmotivated team is an unproductive team. In every organization, supervisors and managers try to motivate people to be their best and to help the organization meet its goals. Managers and executives are sometimes confused as to why their teams seem unmotivated and appear to be just “going through the motions”. But we think these managers are looking too far away from the solution.
The old Theory X and Theory Y view of people as being basically lazy or not has fallen out of favor in modern discussions of Human Capital/Resources. We now know that motivation is very complex and that lots of factors are at play, some complementing each other, and others in direct contradiction. The speaker in this video, Daniel Pink, makes the case that the traditional if-then motivational construct held by management in the 19th century – – – if you do this work, then the company will pay you this much money – – – only works for menial work and not for the kind of brain-intensive, knowledge work that is increasingly common today.
If external (extrinsic) rewards do not motivate people, what other leverage does management have? Intrinsic rewards. Intrinsic means “relating to the essential nature of a thing”. So, intrinsic motivation causes a person to do (or not do) something because that course of action is inherently gratifying, interesting or enjoyable to that person. The behavior might meet deeply rooted psychological, spiritual or physical needs or it could somehow be inherently satisfying. It might align with the person’s view of how the world should be. A person taking an action due to intrinsic motivation might describe the action as being fun, a challenge, interesting, just “play”, or maybe satisfying a thirst for knowledge. Every person, including every one of your employees, is intrinsically motivated to do certain things.
Extrinsic is defined as “not part of the essential nature of someone or something; coming or operating from outside.” It refers to behavior that is driven by external rewards such as money, popularity, school grades or praise. This type of motivation arises from outside the individual, as opposed to intrinsic motivation, which originates inside the individual. Extrinsic motivation causes a person to do (or not do) something because it fulfills some externally-originating need or meets some other party’s objective or requirement. So, which is better (and easier to employ by management)? It turns out humans need both types.
Intrinsic motivation can be harder for employers to promote and encourage because so much of it comes from the employee and their internal desires and drive. There are things that employers and managers can do to help grow that internal motivation. Some examples of ways that employers can contribute to intrinsic motivation are by allowing and promoting autonomy and knowledge, encouraging purposefulness and meaningfulness, increasing responsibility while tracking progress, recognizing accomplishment and fostering social interactions.
Extrinsic motivators can be easier for employers to encourage and promote, although they often don’t have as lasting an effect as intrinsic motivators. Employers can foster extrinsic motivation by first giving permission to the managers who directly supervise the employees to reward them with things such as pay increases, time off, bonuses, rewards and other symbols of acknowledgment. Upper management should be considering things like the benefit structure, what can be realistically offered to the employees and what the company can afford or getting creative to come up with ideas that work within the budget.
As managers and leaders, we want both types of motivation in the workplace and we want them aligned with each other. Often this takes time. When joining a high-performance team, new people evolve from the initial, extrinsic “I sure hope I can fit-in here and do what these people expect of me” to the intrinsic “I will be the best at my job so I don’t disappoint my team/colleagues”. The adage applies here: “What do your people do when they are certain nobody is watching?” The reward mechanism becomes internal once the person’s own expectations begin to guide every action: Be the best, do the right thing, go the extra step, etc. John Venable, in his excellent book “Breaking the Trust Barrier – – – How Leaders Close the Gaps for High Performance” talks about the amazing transformation that occurs when newly assigned ground-crewmen (including women) make the transition from being an Air Force jet mechanic to being a Thunderbird Air Demonstration Team F-16 jet mechanic. The improvement in their attention to detail in their personal appearance, their work on the jets, even the way they hold their heads up and walk with purpose, must be seen to be believed. “It isn’t arrogance,” John said, “it is just an awareness that you are now part of an amazingly close-knit team that is doing something incredible” (maintaining six jets that fly at 500 mph, just 18 inches apart, while rolling and looping, is clearly incredible and the tiniest mechanical malfunction is often lethal to the pilot).
So how do we build our own Thunderbird-like, high-performance organizations?
Peter Drucker would be so proud!
What are the biggest challenges facing you today related to the hiring, managing and motivating of employees?
Your comments are welcomed.
For further reading:
This blog post is intended for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. No attorney-client relationship is created between the author and reader of this blog post, and its content should not be relied upon as legal advice. Readers are urged to consult legal counsel when seeking legal advice.