“The secret to high performance isn’t rewards and punishments, but that unseen intrinsic drive – the drive to do things for their own sake, the drive to do things because they matter.”
Inevitably, participants in the kickoff sessions for my leadership development programs identify one of their top expectations for learning as “how to better motivate employees”. Organizations try to motivate people in three ways: more often than not through two forms of Extrinsic Motivation, and seldom through Intrinsic Motivation.
- Fear – we’ve all experienced fear as a motivator at some time in our lives. Fear is an extrinsic motivator that only produces short-term benefits in a few circumstances. In the long run, people can learn to live with fear, or they simply leave. In either case, fear produces a negative lasting impact on both the organization and the lives of the people in it.
- Incentives and Rewards – while fear provides the “stick”, incentives are extrinsic motivators that provide the “carrot”. They seldom have lasting impact but can be useful for short-term purposes if carefully selected – very carefully. One of the biggest problems with this form of motivation is that “this year’s bonus often becomes next year’s entitlement.”
- Intrinsic Motivation – traditional notions of management, like fear and rewards, work great if all you want is compliance, but if you want engagement self-direction works much better. People will do more, produce more and perform better if they want to. This is one of the most simple and true facts of human behavior and yet most leaders don’t get it.
Daniel Pink, in an address at the 2009 TED Global conference in Oxford, England, (video is available below) superbly makes the case for intrinsic versus extrinsic motivation. He also lays out the three elements that make Intrinsic Motivation work:
- Autonomy – the urge to direct our own lives
- Mastery – the desire to get better and better at something that matters
- Purpose – the yearning to do what we do in service to something larger than ourselves
Pink refers to these three elements as the “building blocks of an entirely new operating system for business”…and he is absolutely correct.
Rewards and incentives do work, but there is a vast amount of scientific evidence that incentives and rewards only work on a narrow band of mostly mechanical applications or with repetitive tasks. Yet organizations continue to pour resources into Pay-for-Performance and similar systems. Extrinsic rewards not only reduce productivity and performance, they destroy creativity and innovation.
Want to create a motivating environment in your organization? Provide autonomy, mastery and purpose. Leaders who create this kind of motivating environment are the best leaders of all. Help employees develop a line of sight to something important that transcends their self-interest, giving them a “true north”, a sense of purpose. Begin by helping employees identify their goals, what they want to achieve, where they want to go with their lives, what they want to have, the kind of people they want to become.