As I work with clients to hone their leadership skills the issue of motivation frequently arises. The prevailing view is that you must provide an incentive for your team members to work hard to meet their goals. However, such a view is fraught with peril.
Research on motivation has shown us that individuals are generally motivated in one of two ways:
• Intrinsically, with the satisfaction of having done a good job or completing a challenging assignment
• Extrinsically, with external rewards such as a bonus, prize, or contest
In general, intrinsically motivated individuals are those you should be looking for. They will be motivated by challenging assignments and the satisfaction of having done a good job. The extrinsically motivated people will require constant care and feeding since they’ll always be looking for the reward, the “what’s in it for me” (WIIFM) factor.
The real difficulty lies in rewarding intrinsically motivated individuals with external rewards. A colleague of mine and fellow Kansas State University alumna, Dr. Nancy Johnson, provided me with an excellent example over coffee one day. In one of her classes at the University of Kentucky she encouraged students to participate and appealed to their intrinsic motivation. Those who were generally intrinsically motivated were eager to participate and became more involved in the class. She then offered an extra credit point for class participation—an extrinsic reward. As expected, the extrinsically motivated individuals began to participate. So far so good. But then the intrinsically motivated people significantly reduced their participation because they felt as if they were only participating for points rather than ideas. In other words the extrinsic reward impaired the intrinsic motivation.
So be careful—the same effect can happen to your team. Some of the motivation research has shown a similar phenomena where external rewards destroy intrinsic motivation. Even further, some of the motivation and creativity research has revealed that extrinsic rewards may diminish creativity.
Goals are also powerful motivators. We have seen many studies which show that well-designed goals enhance performance. The existence of goals, depending on how they are treated, may appeal to an individual’s intrinsic or extrinsic motivation.
• Through your one-on-one discussions with team members determine whether they are more intrinsically or extrinsically motivated
• Use appropriate motivation techniques with individuals
• Use a thoughtful and measured approach to setting goals and incentives for team projects
Keywords: leadership, motivation, extrinsic, intrinsic, goals, creativity
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