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Motivation - 16 September 2014

Back in the 1st century, the Roman philosopher Seneca coined the phrase that “it is quality rather than quantity that matters”, which has endured in many different ways even 2000 years later.  The reality, though, is that in many businesses, quantity and quality are of equal importance, and the most treasured employees are those who can master both.

A fascinating new study published in the Psychological Bulletin journal provides some useful insights on how you can use motivation to improve those two aspects of performance.  What makes this research truly special is that it’s a meta-analysis, which means the researchers have analysed every single reputable study conducted on motivation over the past 40 years.  Their simple findings might surprise you.

First, a rhetorical question:  When it comes to improving employee performance, which motivational approach do you think is more successful?  There are two to choose from: extrinsic motivation and intrinsic motivation.  

Extrinsic motivation is when you use incentives (such as money and gifts).  Intrinsic motivation is when you use intangible strategies (such as meaningful jobs and inspirational visions).  So which of the two do you think elicits greater performance?

If you chose extrinsic motivation, you’re half right.  And if you chose intrinsic motivation, again you’re only half right.  That’s because, according to the exhaustive meta-analysis, both extrinsic and intrinsic motivation lead to higher performance.  It just depends on whether you want to improve quantity or quality.

Extrinsic motivation is ideal for quantity.  If you want your employees, for example, to generate more sales or to improve their productivity, you need to look at extrinsic techniques.  Awards, commissions and prizes are all potentially appropriate if your aim is to lift numbers-based performance.

Intrinsic motivation is ideal for quality.  This includes objectives such as customer service and innovation.  The easiest way to intrinsically motivate people is to slightly alter their jobs so that they’re exposed to more of the work they love.  Generally, each person is driven by two, maybe three, from the following list.  Your role as the leader is to identify those that each employee prefers and to give them more of it.

   -   Control:  The opportunity to work autonomously without being micromanaged.
   -   Cooperation:  The opportunity to work collaboratively with others.
   -   Fantasy:  The incorporation of imagination, games and learning in the workplace.
   -   Curiosity:  The regular inclusion of activities that are fresh and different.
   -   Recognition:  The feeling of being noticed, acknowledged and appreciated.
   -   Challenge:  The completion of tasks that require a certain amount of difficulty.
   -   Competition:  The opportunity to compete with, and outdo, colleagues.

And while you’re at it, don’t forget to motivate yourself using these same techniques. Few things are as motivating as a motivated leader.


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