Maree's Blog

How Intrinsic Motivation Beats Extrinsic Motivation Every Time.

 Motivated business group working together

Being able to empower employees to be the best version of themselves is one of the greatest skills a leader or manager can possess. It’s that ability to inspire intrinsic motivation, to activate that “power within” them. They then give 150%, go the extra mile, and want to work WITH you, not just FOR you because you have engaged their hearts and minds.

So many leaders and managers bring to their leadership and management an underlying assumption about their employees, that the only way to motivate them to perform at a high level is to use a reward and punishment model of motivation, the old carrot and stick approach. They do, however, use a much more sophisticated management language to describe it. The underlying message is: “If you do what we want you to do you will get a carrot and if you don’t do what we want you to do you will get the stick.” This is extrinsic motivation. There is considerable evidence that employees whose work is solely extrinsically motivated don’t end up being the kind of employees who are engaged in your organisation and want to give 150%. Their only motivation often is what they can get and take from your organisation, not what they can give. Leaders and managers need to shift to a leadership style that inspires intrinsic motivation in their employees.

Daniel Pink, in his New York Times Top 10 Bestseller book, “Drive – The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us”, highlighted the difference between extrinsic motivation and intrinsic motivation. He pits the shallowness of extrinsic motivation grounded in the receiving of external rewards for being compliant against the deeper reality of intrinsic motivation which is grounded in self-direction and doing things because they are important to you, are challenging and interesting and because you can see the difference they make.

If you are genuinely interested in empowering your people for high performance but are unsure where to start, I suggest you start by reading Pink’s book.

Cover of Daniel Pink's book DRIVE

If that’s too daunting when you are not sure if I’m selling you a furphy, then watch his TED video on The Puzzle of Motivation.

Following on what I have said above, he says in this video that there is a mismatch between what science knows and what business does. Business tends to believe that if you want people to perform better you reward and incentivise them. In other words, you use extrinsic motivators, a carrots and sticks, rewards and punishment approach.

He says that while this may work for mechanical tasks which characterised much of the work that was done in the 20th century and prior to that, it does not work in the knowledge economy of the 21st century.

We need a new approach that encourages intrinsic motivation where people do things because they matter; they are interesting; they inspire them; they make them feel they are making a difference.

We need to learn how to intrinsically motivate our employees, that means to get them to motivate themselves from within. It amazes me that whenever an organisation experiences low morale and low motivation, management tends to  automatically think of how much money they may need to spend to provide incentives and rewards to motivate their people. They rarely consider how the way they are relating to their employees – the management/employee relationship – is impacting on motivation and morale.

Pink says we need to inspire 3 things in our employees to drive intrinsic motivation.

AUTONOMY – the urge to direct their own lives

MASTERY – the desire to get better and better at something that matters.

PURPOSE –  the yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves.

In his book he develops out these 3 qualities in great detail.

He says that if we want compliance, keep doing what business does and disregard all of what science is now telling us. If we want engagement, self-direction works better.

In case you can’t read Daniel Pink’s Twitter message on the image above, let me leave you with it here.

Carrots and sticks are so last century. DRIVE says that

for 21st century work, we need to upgrade to

autonomy, mastery and purpose.

Daniel Pink on Twitter.

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