Whether an inside job or working from the outside in, motivation on the job is no easy task.
I have always loved the simple explanation for motivation that it is your “motive” to action.
This made me think of the sign I saw the other day that said, “I dream of a better world where chickens can cross the road without having their motives questioned.”
“I dream of a better world where chickens can cross the road without having their motives questioned.”
However, motivation from a scientific viewpoint, is always described as the psychological factors we all have such as needs, desires, wants, or drives within us that cause us to do the things we do each and every day.
The tricky part is applying this oft-misunderstood concept on the job.
Motivating Someone Else Is Hard To Do
From a workplace and management perspective the question is often asked how can you motivate another person?
The reality is motivation is not something a manager has direct control over. Each of us is already motivated. We are simply motivated by different things in life and these can change over time.
The bottom line is an employee who comes across as highly motivated tends to work harder than the unmotivated person next to them.
Trying to motivate someone else is simply a difficult thing to do. This is because there are both conscious and unconscious elements to motivation.
For example, how strong is a person’s desire or need to obtain something or do a particular task? Their parents, upbringing, or social status, may all influence their motivation, which the individual may not even be fully aware of.
What are their personal expectations or the expectations of those they live or work with? Expectations are mostly internal in nature but they can also be externally set by the social group one works in or grew up in.
Another factor to consider is the value of doing a specific action or the reward value from achieving the goal or task itself. One constantly counts the intrinsic and extrinsic cost with doing certain behaviors and may sacrifice this willingly, or consider the payoff, so to speak, from reaching the desired outcome.
As a manager or leader, your role is probably best spent helping employees identify what their personal motivators are. Once you know and they know what they are, you can more easily mesh their job role and responsibilities to be more in line with their identified motivators.
Understanding Extrinsic Motivation
Certainly, we can be motivated extrinsically by the external outcomes that come to us from doing our work on the job.
Consider the situation where you could be promoted to a promised job position when you have completed all the steps in the career path laid out for you. Or you can earn a bonus on top of your regular base salary for achieving a sale of the latest software solution to a major client.
If you follow Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, you will know that some people may be driven more by physiological and security needs sometimes dependent on their economic circumstances or where they live.
A concern though is that a reliance on only external motivation and rewards can create an expectation and entitlement mentality for more of the same, please. That’s when you can run into problems.
Supervisors and managers must be careful not to think of rewards and external motivators as tools to manipulate employees by.
Rather, rewards are great reinforcers for achieving specific outcomes. The more natural and consequential the external motivator is the better it is for the person and the more meaningful and effective it will be.
Getting Clear on Intrinsic Motivation
You and I know there are some things you simply love to do. You are motivated from the inside out.
You might have a hobby that you spend a lot of time with, like photography or painting. It is so interesting and enjoyable to you that time disappears whenever you are caught up with it.
On the job, you can be equally intrigued and motivated by an unusual challenge assigned to you to solve or when you’ve completed a project you’ve been working on forever.
Maslow’s hierarchy tends to state you must meet your basic needs through things like pay and benefits to take care of your physical needs first before you will progress to the next stages of motivation – such as obtaining recognition or becoming the best that you can be through service to others and self-actualization.
Lately, motivation has now been labeled as version 3.0 referring to us being influenced by the need for autonomy, mastery, and purpose, and a more self-directed focus of motivation.
Combining Extrinsic and Intrinsic Motivation
There are two aspects to rewards or extrinsic motivation to remember.
First, is the controlling factor where people view extrinsic motivators as “controllers” of behavior. When the controlling element is focused on it reduces satisfaction of the need for autonomy and creates a dependence on someone else for a person’s source of motivation.
This external locus of causality can actually undermine an employee’s intrinsic motivation.
Second, is the informational factor, which gives satisfaction for an individual’s need for competence and actually enhances their intrinsic motivation. This would be akin to the concept of mastery.
Research findings show that if you want to increase the quantity of work output the use of rewards or extrinsic motivators may work well.
However, if you want to see the quality and creativity improve it is best to draw upon intrinsic motivation and recognition that focus on growth versus achievement. The critical piece here is having a purpose to focus on rather than just the outcome.
Keep in mind that behavioral economists point out that extrinsic rewards and intrinsic motivation can crowd out each other. They highlight that increasing extrinsic rewards has the result of decreasing intrinsic motivation.
It is obvious that extrinsic and intrinsic motivations are not easy elements to understand or effectively utilize in the workplace.
The one thing that I see repeatedly is that motivation is not something that can be managed by others. Motivation is a do-it-yourself job.
Hopefully, you will be motivated on the inside to study this topic on a much deeper level so you can use it well externally on the job.
Reflective Question: How do answer the question when asked about how to motivate an employee?
(Previously published in Training Magazine, 2017)
Roy is no longer writing new content for this site (he has retired!), but you can subscribe to Engage2Excel’s blog as Engage2Excel will be taking Roy’s place writing about similar topics on employee recognition and retention, leadership and strategy.