The Kind Of Motivation That Leads To Success

Motivation levels at work are declining, to the detriment of organizational effectiveness and employee wellbeing. So should leaders use extrinsic or intrinsic rewards to encourage performance? It may not be a case of either or….

They say that when you first start a job, you shouldn’t aim to be the last person to leave the office every evening, but the first to arrive.

And that’s because showing your dedication by arriving early — forgoing cosiness in bed or not stopping to grab a coffee en-route — will result in positive recognition from the new team you want to impress.

But, fast forward a few years: if you still arrive at the office at 8am most days, what’s motivating you now?

It may be that you work on commission and know those extra hours may well result in a financial reward; perhaps you’ve started working four days a week with longer hours; or, possibly (and perhaps ideally), you arrive at your desk excited for the day to begin.

Each of these drivers are valid. They simply represent different types of motivation.

But what exactly is motivation, when we really boil it down? You can think of it as what keeps your passion up, after the ‘grind’ of a new job sets in. When everything becomes a bit habitual — what encourages you to perform?

Of course these are important questions because, as we know, there’s a positive relationship between employee motivation and organizational effectiveness. The more motivated a team, the greater they perform, the more the business succeeds… and, in turn, the more motivated the employees become. 

Indeed, motivation can create affirmative cycles — as team members see the fruits of their labor convert to commercial success, the more inspired they are as a result.

And with increasing numbers of employees telecommuting or logging in from home — or even working fully remote roles — how can leaders ensure everyone is singing, enthusiastically, from the same hymn sheet?

There are numerous motivation theories, across psychological and behavioral fields; but the best known categorization, and the one we’ll talk about today, is that of extrinsic versus intrinsic motivation.

Extrinsic and intrinsic motivation — what is the difference?

Motivation theories draw a clear line between extrinsic and intrinsic motivations. However, it’s more likely that the drivers which inspire you in your professional life exist somewhere on a spectrum between the two — that is, sometimes you’re motivated by a little bit of both.

But, for the purpose of a definition, we can say that:

  • Extrinsic motivators are external to us; here we are motivated into action either to earn a reward or to avoid a punishment. This may be status (an impressive sounding job title), financial bonuses, a coveted benefits package or praise from peers and seniors.

  • Intrinsic motivations are more inward facing, where the behavior itself is its own reward; you simply enjoy the task or challenge ahead.

Let’s look at those in a real workplace situation. Say…

  • You offer to take the lead on organizing your team’s Christmas party — there’s no additional income involved, and it’ll probably require a few out-of-hours tasks, but you think it sounds fun. Plus, it’s been ages since your team had the chance to enjoy each other’s company outside the office.

  • You agree to take the lead on organizing your team’s Christmas party — there’s no additional income involved but your manager has hinted at, should this party be a success, your involvement will be brought to the attention of the CEO. Plus, it’s been ages since your team had the chance to enjoy each other’s company outside the office.

  • You agree to take the lead on organizing your team’s Christmas party — as you’ll be paid extra for your time.

In this case, scenario 1 represents intrinsic motivation; scenario 2 shows a little intrinsic inspiration at play but also hints to extrinsic reward (in exposure and recognition); and scenario 3 is most clearly defined by extrinsic pay-off.

As this example illustrates, we’ll all come across extrinsic and intrinsic motivations within our careers — sometimes we’re driven by financial or ego rewards, other times we are compelled to act out of pure passion or a sense of responsibility.

And that’s not to say intrinsically-motivated performance goes unnoticed or unappreciated — that’s just not what inspired the action to take place.

However if you reflect on your organization as it is today, it’s not unusual for extrinsic rewards to be more commonplace. Why? Because these are often easier for managers to understand and control…

Extrinsic motivators are often the ‘go to’ within organizations

Studies have shown that many people, both managers, employees and researchers, believe reward and punishment the most efficient way to motivate.

And this isn’t surprising. 

Many of us are raised in an extrinsically-driven environment — as children, we are taught right and wrong through praise and punishment. Through education, success is rewarded through a numerical or alphabetical grading system (an approach that some say kills intrinsic motivation in the classroom).

So, it follows suit that once in a corporate environment we look to similar structures to motivate ourselves and our teams. But if we take into account that, on a global scale, only 15% of employees are engaged with their jobs and motivation levels are declining... well, then something isn’t working.

And the result of low motivation and engagement? It leads to sluggish productivity and — ultimately — commercial failure. If motivation accounts for 40% of the success of team projects, then as managers and leaders we need to do something to flip those figures around.

Could that something be increased intrinsic reward? We think so.

Intrinsic reward tends to establish long-lasting positive behaviors and, in turn, drive individual and commercial success

“When people are financially invested, they want a return. When people are emotionally invested, they want to contribute.” - Simon Sinek

Intrinsic reward is inherently individual — what it looks like, how it influences and why it works is different from person to person.

This probably explains why it’s found in fewer workplaces; it’s simply more complex for managers to deliver against.

But, in actuality, if managers and leaders can create the right environment for intrinsic motivators to take hold, then half the job has already been done. As these reward systems come from within the individual themselves — be it purpose, passion, entertainment, a state of flow, etc. — then facilitation is all it really requires from leaders.

So what conditions are required for employees to develop intrinsic reward?

According to Ivey Business Journal, intrinsic motivation requires a sense of meaningfulness, choice, competence and progress.

Meaning and purpose is increasingly important in the workplace — if an individual feels they have the opportunity to input in a way that delivers real value, or that the part they play is clearly important to the bigger picture, they strive for more.

Similarly, if an employee has ownership of the work they do — they feel responsible for the role they play and have taken the choice to perform it — then there’s an increased sense of pride in a job well done.

And part of these is feeling capable and competent of performing as required. If a team member believes themselves to be able to deliver high quality, impactful work, then the sense of satisfaction — and artistry, even — transcends to intrinsic reward.

So all this results in progress; it’s that positive cycle we referred to before. The greater meaning, autonomy and satisfaction is felt, the more we want to perform and, thus, the more we achieve and feel proud of.

This all links back to Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, and his theory of fundamental human needs. From Maslow’s behavioral concepts, we can infer that self-actualization inspires loyalty, determination and top performance from working teams. True: Maslow’s pyramid also includes more extrinsic values, such as financial security of income. But self-actualization and realization of one’s highest potential — the most emotive, powerful and inspiring of Maslow’s need states — is where long-lasting motivation takes hold.

The feeling of fulfilling our potential can only come from within ourselves — although feedback and praise can kindle it. Personal and professional fulfilment is one of the purest of intrinsic motivations. And it’s compelling. The more we self-actualize, the more we’ll strive to feel it again.

Duuoo’s Six Themes of Employee Engagement takes the theory behind Maslow’s pyramid, and applies to the workplace. Through this framework we help leaders understand how work structure, culture, feedback, motivation and personal development add up to help achieve self-actualization. 

You’ll find plenty of content on Duuoo’s approach to motivation and development over on our blog, but you can always get in touch to find out more.

So where do we net out? For an organization to succeed, should it use extrinsic or intrinsic motivators? In many cases, it’s intrinsic rewards we need to focus on more, but not exclusively...

Photo by Javier Allegue Barros on Unsplash

Motivation doesn’t happen overnight. 

And what motivation looks like, and how it’s approached in your team, will likely need to evolve, as the workplace evolves. After all, extrinsic rewards like an ‘Employee of the Month’ announcement, framed on a corridor wall, will only serve to motivate those who can see it — and with an increase of remote or semi-remote workers in the industry, that might not be very many.

So what do managers and leaders need to do, to encourage and inspire employees to work towards commercial success?

Whilst intrinsic can be seen as the ideal, there’s arguably space — and need — for both intrinsic and extrinsic rewards in the workplace. After all, you’re unlikely to motivate everyone, or anyone, on intrinsic rewards alone. Put simply: we’ve all got bills to pay and we’ve all got egos to protect!

Thus, it’s not entirely a case of either or. For your organization to succeed, and your teams to work at peak performance: both intrinsic and extrinsic motivations play their role.

But – it’s probable that your organization, like many others, will need to focus more on intrinsic influence, to keep employees happy and fulfilled. 

So what will meaningful, intrinsic motivation look like in your organization? At the end of the day, that’s the most important thing for managers to do: to find out what works for their staff. Remember that continuous feedback and communication is the root to all organizational effectiveness — talk to your teams, discuss the types of motivation that work for each individual, and track performance versus extrinsic and intrinsic reward. 

With Duuoo, your employees' 1-on-1s and development talks are informed by what’s happened historically; it’s easy to look back over what worked, and what didn’t work so well, for each employee so that they can chart a path forward with their leader. And, as a result, you can build a motivation approach that inspires each individual team member to self-actualize and work continuously towards reaching their full potential.

If you can successfully do that, then your organization will reap the benefits of a highly motivated and purpose-driven workforce.

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