Managing Through Motivation

Motivating for high performance in today’s job market means tapping into intrinsic motivation. When you are looking to further motivate your team members, start by considering your motivation techniques. If external rewards or punishments are feeling stale, it is time to dig a little deeper. 

Our motivation drives our decisions and actions. As managers, we should learn more about each of our individual employee's motivators. Consider what drives your team members, why they come to work every day, and why are they passionate about what they do.

The employment transaction - in its most basic form -assumes we are motivated by compensation, and perhaps benefits, retirement, vacation time or job security. Compensation models can drive creative incentive structures within organizations.

As managers we need to be thoughtful of the basic employment transaction when planning our core business strategies around incentives, but...what if we could dig deeper?

Think about the last work you did where you were truly inspired.

This would be the work that kept you up at night thinking of solutions. Or the work that kept you energized during long team meetings planning execution strategies.

This motivation probably didn't come from external rewards or punishment.

This motivation was internal.

If we limit our view on where motivation comes from to compensation, we lose the potential to manage for high performance through inspiration and drive.

“Intrinsic motivation is the individual’s desire to perform the task for its own sake.”
(Benabou and Tirole)

In this Management Series email, we'll cover the elements of intrinsic motivation. We'll dive deeper into what they are and how you can ignite them within your team.

Intrinsic motivation is generally broken into three categories:

  • Mastery: information to increase competence

  • Autonomy: self-determination

  • Purpose: connection


Watch more on the Puzzle of Motivation with Dan Pink.

Mastery, Competence, Information

Mastery (sometimes called competence) covers the role that additional information plays on autonomy.

The Cognitive Evaluation Theory first made the connection between intrinsic, internal motivation and information. When work, rewards or even conversations add information, it allows people to develop their mastery (or competence), increasing intrinsic motivation.

In other words, information that increases mastery increases intrinsic motivation.

Consider these question to explore mastery or competence with your team:

  • When do your team members feel challenged in their work? Where do they feel they are learning or developing their skill set?

  • What opportunities do they have to acquire new information? What opportunities do they have to learn?

  • How does your feedback, retrospectives, or meetings give your team members more information to increase their competence?

Autonomy or Choice

The second factor in intrinsic motivation is the desire for autonomy or choice.

Autonomy was first described as self-determination within intrinsic motivation. You can create an environment that allows for team members to evoke some level of self-determination.

If intrinsic motivation is our internal desire to complete a task, accomplishing the work should also be self-driven - It should be rooted in our autonomy or our choice.

Autonomy is a sliding scale between telling someone exactly what work needs to be done and giving them full authority to complete the work on their own. Your team members have a natural desire to feel in control of their behavior. 

One way to begin to explore autonomy is to loop your team members into the beginning of a decision making process.

The decisions could start small. For example, the next time your team member asks for help on something, ask what they think a good path forward could be.

Help them explore the pros and cons of the decisions and ultimately let them determine their own behavior.  

Not all projects or tasks allow for full autonomy. Some decisions may include tight timelines, sensitive results, a repeated pattern of poorly made decisions, information your team members are unaware of or numerous other scenarios. Increasing autonomy does not need to mean moving to a fully autonomous team. Consider where to make small steps and then move forward from there.

Consider how much control your team members have over their:

  • Work schedules

  • Work location

  • Daily work priorities

  • Next steps on projects

  • Time scheduled to communicate progress or updates

  • And more!

Giving away some of the decision making authority can free up your time to focus on more strategic work, empower your team members to take on more of their work, encourage your team members to manage up, and ultimately increase their intrinsic motivation.

Watch more on the role of autonomy in motivation here.  

Purpose and Connection

The last factor of intrinsic motivation as described by the self-determination theory isrelatedness which can be called purpose or connection.  This factor answers the question of why do we do the work we do? Is it a connection to the people around us, society or our team? People want to feel a sense of belonging and a sense of purpose. 

As we discussed with Paul Mildredpurpose is a unique connection to work and distinctively different from passion. Passion is a fleeting moment of happiness or satisfaction. It may come while you are working or it may come years later when a team member reconnects to tell you how your mentorship helped in their career. 

Purpose is the reason for doing the work, it’s the why. You or your team members’ ability to recognize the meaning and impact of work and to answer the "why" question is imperative to understanding the purpose of work.

As managers we can help to connect our team members work to our expectations, metrics for success, team goals, and the greater company mission or vision. Consider what work you have you been doing to build this connection.

To test the efficacy of your efforts to connect your team members work to a great purpose try asking them these questions:

  • What is the impact of your work?

  • How does your work connect to our team goals?

  • How does your work impact the company goals, mission and vision?

Once you know where your team members stand in their understanding of the purpose of their work, you can look to expand this understanding.

Consider the questions below to explore your team members goals and connection to their work:

  • What is your vision for your career? What are your professional goals? What do you want to accomplish in the next year, 3 years or 5 years?

  • What is the role your current work plays in your goals?

  • What are your values, what excites you, what connection does your work have in your life?

Come into these conversations open and ready to meet your team members where they are.

It is not uncommon for someone to have some uncertainty around their career plan or direction. You can explore this path with them by starting with what they enjoy about their work, what gives them energy and what excites them. Understanding and connecting with the impact of their daily work on your team and company can also drive this excitement.

Bringing it All Together

To fully understand the impact of work, it is important to have clear expectations, goals, and measures for success. 

This is where all the aspects of intrinsic motivation begin to connect.

When your team feels that they are working on things of value and impact (work that has purpose), and they are given the information they need to know when and how they are successful (developing mastery), it allows them to have control over their own success at work (autonomy).

Yep - It's a super long email. Save it in a good spot to read when you need guidance on how to manage your team of individuals.

Self-determination Theory
Description: An analysis of the various sub-theories and research on intrinsic motivation

Puzzle of Motivation - Dan Pink (Ted Talk) 
Description: Career analyst Dan Pink examines the puzzle of motivation, starting with a fact that social scientists know but most managers don't: Traditional rewards aren't always as effective as we think (also checkout Drive).

Motivation is Driven by Purpose (RSAnimation)
Description: An infographic animated cartoon on how motivation is driven by purpose rather than monetary rewards.

Examining the Effect of Extrinsic Rewards on Intrinsic Motivation 
Description: A review through the Cognitive Evaluation Theory on intrinsic motivation and rewards

Unlocking Purpose In The Future Of Work withMarlow and Paul Millerd
Description: A conversation around the differences between purpose and passion.

Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation
Description: A review of the differences between extrinsic and intrinsic motivation from Princeton.