When we study Motivation Theory, we are often reminded of the differences between Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation. Intrinsic motivation is seen as good because it unlocks discretionary effort, draws on underlying strengths and encourages people to commit time and energy to a task. Extrinsic motivation is then linked to external rewards or ‘punishment’ that ‘encourages’ people to do things, but with little heart-felt enthusiasm. However, what if this view of Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic Motivation is hiding the real secrets of high performance?
In work situations, not all activities are intrinsically motivating. In fact, there is a danger that focusing on intrinsic motivation can cause problems. People have a tendency to pursue their own areas of interest and seek increased autonomy. They like to follow their natural preferences. However, this may result in energy and resources being poorly directed. We therefore need to initially focus on alignment of activities and building commitment to a shared purpose. This must take place before we start assuming that intrinsic motivation is the solution to all our performance problems.
There is a Motivation Continuum, described in Self Determination Theory, which notes that activities (and new ways of doing things) may initially feel imposed. However, through dialogue, consultation and development of shared purpose, people can start to identify with requirements. They internalize the rationale and appreciate the purpose. For example, many people initially resisted laws requiring the use of seat belts, and those banning mobile phones when driving. However, many drivers now identify with the underlying ethos of ‘safe driving’ and self regulate what they do.
At work, Purposeful Conversations support the transition from externally imposed rules to internal self-regulation. They encourage extrinsic task motivation, so activities are performed to a high standard. This means for example, that people take responsibility for actions that go beyond the minimum requirements. This is increasingly important in work situations that require information to be shared with people outside the immediate team, such as business partners or work associates in separate locations, different organisations, or even other countries. This extended professionalism involves understanding and anticipating other people’s requirements.
The challenge with external task motivation is that performance has a tendency to decline over time. Managers and team leaders need to maintain and reinforce a clear vision of what is required, and demonstrate personal conviction about the best way forward. In more complex work situations involving a range of professionals, effective managers demonstrate Balanced Processing of Information. This is characterized by a willingness to listen, seek feedback, and understand alternative viewpoints. An Enabling Mindset is essential in building a sense of shared purpose.
Self-awareness is strengthened through ongoing feedback that enhances responsiveness to new requirements. Managers build people’s commitment to external task demands by offering support and encouragement, and finding opportunities to reinforce meaning. Purposeful Conversations help create this insight and understanding of the possibilities… so just imagine how it’s going to be. Shared purpose, coupled with support from others, also helps foster resilience at work.