The missing piece in changing employee behavior
Fostering intrinsic motivation is about helping employees become more productive and engaged
It may seem odd that this should be the case, given the enormous attention and resources that organizations dedicate to incentive systems. Most often, however, these incentives take the form of rewards or penalties – often referred to as extrinsic motivators. There is plenty of evidence that these can indeed work to promote behavior change: but they are only half of the picture. One reason for an overreliance on extrinsic motivators may be that reward and punishment systems can be relatively easy to put in place. But motivation based purely on reward and punishment is hard to sustain over time.
Intrinsic motivation: Fostering internal commitment
The more neglected half of motivation is what psychologists call intrinsic motivation. Intrinsic motivators drive behavior change by tapping into internal feelings, encouraging us to act for reasons that we find inherently enjoyable or fulfilling. People with higher levels of intrinsic motivation for particular behaviors are better able to do those things and to sustain them over time.
Research on what drives this type of positive internal commitment shows that intrinsic motivation contains three essential elements: autonomy, mastery and connection.
Autonomy refers to the feeling of having a choice about what one does and not being controlled by others. Involving people in the setting of goals, for example, can reinforce a sense of autonomy. Mastery is about feeling competent, so appeals to a sense of pride can help motivate. Connection has to do with experiencing a sense of purpose. Exploring why the change might matter to an employee and what the consequences and benefits will be can reinforce this connection.
No single “recipe”
There is strong evidence that satisfying this trio of inner needs contributes to intrinsic motivation and can lead to sustained behavior change over time. But individuals may be motivated to different degrees and in varying ways by these three factors; so finding what works requires combining them in a way that is most effective for any given individual.
No single “recipe” is likely to be best in all cases. But recognizing the importance of autonomy, mastery and connection and tuning in to how they contribute differently to individuals’ intrinsic motivation can help managers concoct winning combinations.
Stimulating behavioral change can make significant demands on already overloaded managers in terms of time and the skills required. The good news is that there is a lot of solid evidence about what works, when it works and with whom it works that managers can draw on.
At its core, fostering intrinsic motivation is about helping employees become more productive, engaged and happier in their work. Over the longer term, this contributes to better organizational performance and employee development. It is a prospect that managers should find motivating.
Shlomo Ben-Hur and Nik Kinley are authors of the new book Changing Employee Behavior: A Practical Guide for Managers.
Shlomo Ben-Hur is Professor of Leadership, Talent Management and Corporate Learning at IMD, where he directs the Organizational Learning in Action (OLA) program.
Nik Kinley is the Talent Management Director at the global leadership consultancy YSC.
[Infographic] Employee Engagement In The Workplace
Motivating employees can be a tricky subject. In the past, many companies have used “blanket management,” which treats all employees the same way. But today’s low employee engagement rates are proving the one-size-fits-all motivational tactics are just not working.
That’s because blanket motivation makes assumptions about why employees are demotivated—and usually that assumption is that employees are lazy. That’s sort of like hearing a strange noise coming from under the hood of your car and saying, “Oh, this is a bad car.” Chances are, the car isn’t bad—and neither are your employees.
You just need to get under the hood and get to the real issue. This guide to employee motivation will teach you what’s causing your employees to feel disengaged. You’ll also learn about these four types of motivation:
Intrinsic motivation relies on employees’ natural desire to work. It’s about presenting employees with work that piques their interest, challenges them to think outside the box, and encourages them to learn new things. This works especially well for creatives, who enjoy making art, or for those in service industries, who enjoy helping other people for the sake of doing something nice.
Extrinsic motivation is the most commonly used, relying on external stimuli to evoke a certain response. Some managers use negative extrinsic motivation, punishing workers for mistakes or poor performance, but positive extrinsic motivation tends to be more effective. When employees receive gifts or rewards, it create a positive, comfortable work environment.
Personal motivation focuses on their goals, beliefs, and values. Think of it like this: if an employee places a high value on family, you can best motivate them by showing them how their work will benefit their family. This person might work extra hours during the week to have weekends free, whereas someone else might prefer to work weekends to keep their weekdays short.
Peer motivation relies on your team’s internal connections to one another. Depending on the personalities in your team, this could manifest as a competitive drive or as a desire to do something nice for others. You can bring out peer motivation with team building events, in-house competitions, or off-site social events that encourage employees to get to know and invest in one another.
Changing Employee Behavior
A Practical Guide for Managers
Based on research conducted for this book, it introduces practical techniques drawn from the fields of psychology, psychotherapy, and behavioral economics, and show how they can be applied to address some of the most common, every-day challenges that managers face.