Success in Motivation

July 29, 2022

Maintaining motivation is challenged because we are so often focused on the wrong incentives. This is true whether it’s about our physical health or our effectiveness in the workplace. Seeking some far-off desired outcome is doomed without the right incentives to maintain motivation and succeed in reaching your goals.

Using intrinsic rewards rather than extrinsic ones is helpful whether you’re trying to keep a healthy body or mind.

Self-Determination Theory (SDT) posits that all humans have three psychological needs—autonomy, competence, and relatedness—that underlie our growth. This 50-year-old theory challenged the once dominant belief that the best way to get people to perform tasks is to reinforce behavior with extrinsic rewards.

However, half a century later, all too often organizations continue to incentivize employees primarily with external rewards rather than focus on these psychological needs.

Autonomy is feeling you have the choice to willingly behave in a certain way. In the workplace, this means you have agency for how to approach the task and complete your work.

Competence is the experience of mastery and being effective in your activity. This means making gradual progress, learning along the way, and feeling like you’re capable.

Relatedness is the need to feel connected and belonging to others. It’s about feeling valued by the people around you. This social aspect is often overlooked, but vitally important in maintaining motivation.

According to Richard Ryan and Edward Deci, authors of the book Intrinsic Motivation and Self-Determination in Human Behavior, the human psyche needs these three elements to flourish just as the human body requires protein, carbohydrates, and fat to run properly.  

In the same way managing overall physical health is greatly influenced by our habits and the lifestyle choices we make, so too are our behaviors and mindset in the workplace.

When it comes to physical health, this means ensuring that you focus on the proper fuel necessary to feel good and maintain proper health. Your physical health can thrive if you are motivated to consume the nourishment your body requires and limit the empty calories, sugary products and junk food that gets you into trouble.

Similarly, your psyche needs the right fuel to operate best by having a choice in how you approach the work (autonomy), experience mastery at being effective and making progress (competence), and feeling connected and belonging with others (relatedness).

Relatedness is likely compromised as we do more remote work and struggle to connect with others without being in their actual physical presence. As valuable as video conferencing technologies are in enabling remote work, not being in the physical presence of others limits our ability to fully connect. Motivation may be undermined because this social interaction is really crucial to feeling connected and belonging to something larger than oneself.  

As we continue to strive for a healthy hybrid workplace, keep this relatedness factor in mind when deciding how to make the most of your days in the office. Whenever possible, choose to have face-to-face interactions, impromptu casual conversations, team lunches, and other social engagements to build further connection and the feeling of belonging. This will help sustain motivation and keep you engaged.

Right Job: Intrinsic Motivation & Creativity

July 14, 2021

After an extraordinary time working from home, many of us are nearing a return to the workplace. Seems like a good time to check-in with yourself to see if you are in the right job: One where you find intrinsic motivation not only to feel engaged, but also to be most creative.

This creativity is vital for both your organization to survive and for you to thrive.

Teresa Amabile, psychology professor at Harvard Business School, studies how everyday life inside organizations can influence people and their performance and found that extrinsic motivators such as financial rewards that make people feel controlled can often stifle creativity.

While extrinsic motivation is primarily about external rewards such as money or recognition, intrinsic motivation means you are incentivized to do the activity for the enjoyment itself rather than for the external benefits that may result.

“You should do what you love, and you should love what you do,” says Amabile. Doing what you love means finding work that “matches well with your expertise, your creative thinking skills, and your strongest intrinsic motivations.” Loving what you do means “finding a work environment that will allow you to retain that intrinsic motivational focus, while supporting your exploration of new ideas.”

This means when you are in the right job you can leverage your core competencies, including the things you do best and enjoy as well as having autonomy and are regularly challenged to stretch your abilities.

Amabile found that external rewards can also boost one’s intrinsic motivation and creativity when they these rewards are unexpected or unchosen, especially if these extrinsic rewards support what you are already intrinsically motivated to do.

“My experiments have shown that extrinsic motivators that make people feel controlled or driven only by that motivator drain intrinsic motivation and stifle creativity,” writes Amabile. “But extrinsic motivators that either allow a person to be more engaged, or confirm their competence, in something they are already keen to do, can synergistically add to intrinsic motivation and creativity.”

According to Amabile, support from an employee’s manager is crucial. When a manager provides clear and honest communication, values individual contributions to the overall team, and sets clear goals, this results in the most creative projects. Further, creativity is optimized when the organization supports the free flow of ideas and an opportunity to develop new ideas.

It turns out that what drives creativity in the workplace comes down to simply making progress on meaningful work, providing a sense of moving forward on something that matters. When people felt this experience, they were both more productive and more creative.

And highly-creativity projects have environments that are more intellectually challenging, sufficiently resourced, plenty of autonomy and encouraged innovative thinking.

Do you feel intrinsically motivated and are you able to be creative in your job? If not, is there something your boss or organization can do to change that? Obviously, it is not entirely up to your employer as you also need to take responsibility. Don’t neglect this important aspect of job satisfaction as there may be no better indicator as to whether you simply remain employed or really thrive.

This is the perfect time for you to assess whether the job you’re returning to in-person is the one that enables you to bring out your best.  

Your Role in Job Satisfaction

June 14, 2018

Graduation season is upon us and college graduates are seeking to put their newly acquired knowledge to work by building skills and experience in order to pay off student loans, establish careers, and begin an enduring and satisfying adult life.

Much of overall satisfaction with life comes from our relationships with partners, family and friends. But when we spend 40 years or more in the workplace, we should seek to find careers that provide not only a decent salary, but also fully engage us to bring out our best.

Regardless of the type of work, we each need to take individual responsibility for job satisfaction because—much like managing our physical health—it’s too important and impossible to outsource to anyone else.

It takes many things to find fulfillment at work, but they likely fall into either intrinsic or extrinsic rewards. Intrinsic rewards are those that you feel because you are fulfilled merely by the work itself. You need nothing or no one to provide you with any accolades or financial compensation for doing the job. Extrinsic rewards are those where you are given something by someone else. This could be in the form of financial incentives or in recognition.

In Necessary Dreams, author Anna Fels writes that feeling fulfilled at work requires two things: mastery and recognition. She says mastery is about expertise and the sheer enjoyment you feel when you do something you value really well. It provides meaning and satisfaction. The effort and reward are both internal.

As I wrote about in a previous post, Daniel Pink, author of the book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, says the key to tapping into intrinsic interests is through autonomy, mastery and purpose. These are three things that you alone are responsible for. If they are not found in your current role, it is your responsibility to find ways to get them. This could mean helping to redefine your role, taking on more responsibility, delegating things off your plate, or changing departments or companies if necessary.

The important thing to remember is that your supervisor is not going to provide you with the intrinsic motivation you may be seeking. And, for those of you just beginning your careers, you will likely need to be patient, since autonomy, mastery and purpose are unlikely to come in your first job. Just be certain you are on a path that will enable you to reach these intrinsic rewards as you grow in your chosen career.

The second essential element for workplace fulfillment, according to Fels, is being recognized for what you do. Recognition is an extrinsic reward because it comes from outside of you. Someone else needs to recognize you. All too often, companies think of extrinsic rewards as confined to high salaries and generous benefit packages. More enlightened organizations see the importance of things like flexible work hours, fairness in hiring and promoting practices, the ROWE (Results Only Work Environment) human resource strategy and unlimited vacation time as extrinsic rewards. These are all ways companies can demonstrate that they recognize employees as important and valuable partners.

Perhaps the easiest, cheapest and most important form of an extrinsic reward, however, is the simple acknowledgement of the good work an employee has done. Simply stating aloud appreciation for a job well done does wonders for fulfilling the recognition element. This shouldn’t take the place of promotions and salary increases, of course, but it should definitely be a part of the mix. And it should be done regularly.

This recognition should be done face-to-face whenever possible and it needs to be sincere. It is also best—when appropriate—if it can be done in public. Nothing boosts engagement, morale and overall job satisfaction more than this simple human interaction.

You may ask: If this extrinsic reward comes from outside of you, how is it then your responsibility for achieving job satisfaction? It turns out that you can do a lot to help encourage extrinsic rewards. Regardless of your role, you have an obligation to communicate what it is you need from your supervisor and from your organization in order to succeed.

If you need more feedback, be sure you let them know this. If there are things beyond feedback that will further motivate you, let your supervisor and leadership throughout the organization know this as well. You will likely be speaking for many of your coworkers as well. This is information that will benefit you as well as the entire organization.

Whether you’re a recent college graduate or have been in the workforce for a while and frustrated you are not finding job satisfaction, perhaps it’s time to assess the intrinsic and extrinsic factors. Determine which it is and then work on doing your part to get what you need in order to improve your satisfaction. Don’t expect or wait for others to do what is yours to do.

Rethinking the Role of Manager

December 4, 2012

Does your boss often get in the way of helping you be more productive? This is not entirely his or her fault as many organizational structures are based on an outdated incentive mentality that can actually be detrimental in today’s workplace.

The workplace has changed dramatically over the past 50 years. Secretaries are scarce, the metallic sound of office machinery is replaced by electronic tones of pagers and cell phones, and—rather than conversing around the water cooler—we are more likely to be texting or using social networks as a way to interact with others.

How we manage other people, however, has remained the same.

The role of manager varies depending on the industry and nature of the work, but when it comes to supervising others, there is very often conflict and disharmony.

In a recent working paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research titled “The Value of Bosses” by Edward P. Lazear, Kathryn L. Shaw and Christopher T. Stanton, supervisors were found to have an enormous impact—good or bad—on productivity.

Among their findings, nearly 75% of all employees say their boss is the worst and most stressful part of their job. And 65% of employees say they would take a new boss over a pay raise.

The same study determined it is not what these bosses do, but what they don’t do that makes them so bad. This includes 1) failing to inspire; 2) accepting mediocrity; 3) lacking clear vision and direction; 4) inability to be collaborate and be a team player; 5) failing to walk the talk.

It turns out that the best bosses are actually teachers, and the report stated that teaching accounts for 67% of a boss’s effect on employees’ productivity.

What if your manager was focused on teaching and encouraging your intrinsic motivation to enable you to be more productive and happier in the process?

Too often motivation throughout many companies is based on the carrot and stick approach. For all but a very few types of manufacturing jobs or those requiring mechanical skills, however, this approach has been scientifically proven not to work. In fact, it can actually be detrimental to productivity.

So why is there so much time and money spent on extrinsic incentives in order to get employees to work harder? Extrinsic incentives include things like a high salary, bonus, stock options, and generous benefits, which are often what attract employees in the first place. However, it is the intrinsic incentives such as interesting work, flexible time on when and where to do the work, ROWE or results only work ethic, 20% time to follow interests, etc. that keep employees motivated and highly productive.

According to author Daniel Pink, intrinsic motivation is absolutely required and his model includes three essential elements: autonomy, mastery and purpose. Autonomy is the urge to direct our own lives; mastery is the desire to get better and better at something that matters; and purpose is the yearning to do what we do in service of something larger than ourselves.

Workers today face challenges that require right-brained, creative, and/or conceptual thinking. This “outside the box” thinking cannot be incentivized through conventional external means, but instead requires internal motivation.

Intrinsic nature means the job’s core responsibilities and you’re being paid to do something you find satisfying, says Timothy Judge, Mendoza’s Franklin D. Schurz Professor of Management.

After conducting a hundred job-satisfaction studies, Judge says he’s never found one where the intrinsic nature of the work itself wasn’t the most important predictor of overall job satisfaction.

So what if a manager’s role was not to incentivize, scold, or threaten those he or she manages, but instead to teach, inspire, and support the employee’s need for autonomy, mastery and purpose? This new role for manager would look a lot more like a coach, mentor or teacher who is in service of raising the level of productivity of others.

In this way the workplace could be less hostile and more cooperative, less competitive and more collaborative. Managers could contribute to the workplace environment in a way that creates higher employee engagement and greater productivity. And that would be good for any organization.

6 Tips for Employee Motivation

May 20, 2010

Despite the preponderance of best-selling books on dieting, smoking cessation and breaking other addictions, the truth about all motivation is that it is not about techniques, but about personal will. True motivation comes from deciding you are ready to take responsibility for managing yourself and doing something about it.

Similarly, in the work environment, motivating employees cannot come from management techniques, but from the employees themselves.

So the question should not be how can you motivate your employees, but how can you create the conditions where employees will motivate themselves? The answer is to foster an environment that enables them to assume responsibility and provide them with choice.

But let’s back up a bit. The age-old rewards or ultimatums for obtaining desired behavior has limitations. No matter whether it is in trying to get your six-year-old to practice the piano or seeking to make an employee more productive, carrot and stick approaches have proven not to be effective over the long run.

Psychologist Harry Harlow, in his pioneering work with rhesus monkeys, used the term “intrinsic motivation” to explain why monkeys solved problems without a tangible reward at stake. In the same way, he theorized that all children are intrinsically motivated to learn. As human beings, we are curious creatures and pursue knowledge and problem-solving out of our own pleasure in doing so.

Somehow many of us lose our intrinsic motivation by choosing career paths that are not aligned with who we are. Following a line of work based on others’ expectations or based on high financial rewards can backfire in providing us with a satisfying life. Money has, in fact, been demonstrated to actually undermine intrinsic motivation.

All of us need to take responsibility for our intrinsic motivation—both in our personal lives as well as our work lives. The motivation we have for doing anything is ultimately linked to this personal responsibility.

Author Ken Blanchard, in the “The One Minute Manager” series of books, talks about the need for every employee to determine whether direction and/or support is necessary and then make this clearly known to his or her boss. Only in this way, can a boss fully understand what is required to help the employee succeed. This is the employee’s responsibility and a key component to motivation in the workplace.

Self-motivation is at the heart of all responsibility, creativity, healthy behavior, and lasting change, according to psychologist Edward L. Deci.

In his book, “Why We Do What We Do: The Dynamics of Personal Autonomy,” Deci suggests that for intrinsic motivation to succeed in the workplace, it comes down to providing autonomy in place of control. A controlling atmosphere means employees will feel stifled and lack motivation to produce optimally. On the other hand, by giving an employee the choice on how to do his or her job, intrinsic motivation is more likely to occur.

As a manager, this requires taking an autonomy supportive position, which is a personal orientation you can choose to take toward other people, especially those in a one-down position. An example of a one-down position could be between a manager and employee or between a parent and child.

An autonomy supportive position requires being able to take another person’s perspective. You need to be able to grasp what it is like to be your employee, in your company, this particular community and this industry. This is a skill to be learned and it can require not only time, but also self-discipline to master.

Here are six tips to keep in mind to foster a favorable environment for employee motivation:

  1. Demand personal responsibility. Make each employee accountable in their respective roles and expect them to communicate what is necessary to succeed.
  2. Provide choice. Set objectives and let the employee decide how and what to do in order to reach these objectives.
  3. Set autonomy-supportive limits. Ensure each employee understands why something is important and the parameters around it.
  4. Set goals and evaluate performance. This helps maintain motivation because people behave when they expect they can attain goals.
  5. Recognize and award everyone. Rather than pit individuals and workgroups against each other in a competition, recognize each group or individual for their most important accomplishment or improvement.
  6. Overcome obstacles. Controlling personalities and lack of skills can be obstacles to autonomy-supportive behavior. Managers may require skills training and need to also see autonomy-supportive behavior coming from above.

Research by Richard Ryan and Edward Deci found that autonomy supportive managers have workers who were more trusting of the corporation, less concerned about pay and benefits, and displayed higher level of satisfaction and morale.

Further research found that people who are autonomy-oriented have higher self-esteem and are more self-actualized. People high on the autonomy orientation have more positive mental health and report more satisfied with their interpersonal relationships. Ultimately, through their behavior and expectations, people can influence their environments to provide them with more of what they need.

Employees need to feel competent and autonomous for intrinsic motivation to be maintained. And it is important to remember that it is only their perception of competence and autonomy that matters for intrinsic motivation.

This combination of employee responsibility and employer choice enables a healthy environment where intrinsic motivation can foster. And intrinsic motivation is the key to employee motivation.

Mark Craemer