Intrinsic motivation for the win!

You have set your team a new task and problem to solve and you want to ensure they are as fully motivated and immersed in the project as possible, so you decide to offer the motivation of a monetary reward.  This should work as perfectly effectively as you want it to, correct?  It seems not…  Providing monetary rewards could be sabotaging the most powerful source of motivation – intrinsic motivation.

In the 1970s, psychologist Edward Deci studied how money affects motivation.  Edward conducted an experiment where he paid members of one group $1 for each puzzle solved over a course of three sessions, whereas participants in the other group received no monetary reward.  In the middle of the task there was an 8-minute free period where members could choose to either continue to work on cracking the puzzle or read magazines; generally choosing to spend time as they wish.  The surprising result was that the paid group chose to spend less time working on the puzzles in this free period than the unpaid group.  The extrinsic monetary reward made them lose motivation!  Continuing on from this, Dan Pink highlighted the experiment conducted by Glucksberg in his Ted Talks Video ‘The puzzle of motivation’; Glucksberg provided a group of participants a problem to solve and one half were told they would be timed to establish averages for how long it typically takes to solve the problem.  The other half were told they would receive $5 if they were in the top 25% of the fastest times and $20 if they solved the problem in the fastest time out of everyone.  The result?  The group offered the monetary reward took on average 3.5 minutes longer!

As we can see, monetary rewards do not seem to help, whereas a focus on intrinsic rewards is much more lucrative and will keep people motivated, happy and productive!  The three core components of intrinsic motivation to incorporate into your motivation strategy are:

  • Autonomy: Help your team to direct themselves – they should feel and know they have a choice in what they are doing and are determining their own fate. Retire the command and control style of management and instead focus on acknowledging your team’s perspectives, encouraging choices and providing support rather than instruction.  Create a transparent environment with reduced barriers, where team members know what everyone is working on and feel comfortable asking for help.
  • Mastery: Getting better at something or learning something new and mastering it completely is extremely satisfying and motivating. We all like the feeling of getting better, which is why a sense of progress contributes to our inner drive.  As a manager you should spend time looking at what your team members’ capabilities are and ensure they are working on tasks that are not out of the realm of them being able to complete, but are not so easy that they lose interest.  Provide coaching and feedback to help people gain mastery at work.
  • Purpose: Having something to work towards and to know you are making a difference is extremely important for motivation. As a manager you should be encouraging and supporting your team so they want to and are excited about getting up and coming to work in the morning and are giving their tasks and projects their full enthusiasm and interest.  As I Done This Blog rightly say “Purpose gives you a reason to stretch, explore, and keep at it”, so help your team understand the ‘why’ behind what they are doing.  If you have purpose then you are motivated to pursue the most difficult problems as you know and care about the outcome.

There are many things we can do as individuals and as managers to focus in on intrinsic motivations and to cultivate the aspects of autonomy, mastery and purpose – this will help turn our work into something much more meaningful and enjoyable.  These intrinsic factors are innate and if they are liberated, then much more will be achieved.  So next time you think about monetary rewards, consider instead a focus on these intrinsic factors.

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