The Value of Intrinsic Rewards


Get Shift Done: Management

Source: Brian Fitzgerald at Flickr

You know what’s demotivating?


No, seriously. I know that sounds ridiculous. It sounds counter to everything we’ve been brought up to believe.

But it’s true. Science says so.

Daniel Pink talks about this a lot in his groundbreaking book, Drive. He talks to Edward Deci and Richard Ryan, researchers at the University of Rochester and the fathers of “self-determination theory.” He talks about studies proving that people are more likely to participate in an activity they perceive value in, rather than ones that they are paid for. He talks about intrinsic motivation.

What’s Intrinsic Motivation?

Before we answer that, let’s look at extrinsic motivation. This is the old carrot and stick. Do something good, you’ll get something good. Do something bad? Thwack. You get the stick.

Carrots and sticks have traditionally been the model for dealing with under-performing teams. Companies would hold out a carrot — get this job done and everyone gets a special lunch brought in! — or threaten with a stick — don’t get this done and no one will get holiday bonuses — and the expectation was that would be enough to motivate people.

But research shows the opposite happens. Sure, people get the work done, but they take the shortest path, do the minimum, produce a shoddy product.

This is where intrinsic motivation comes in. When a task is interesting, or seen as having value, people are more likely to attack it wholeheartedly. Tasks like that don’t just motivate people to work on them, it motivates them to produce work of superior quality.

Switching the reward paradigm in a company — or even on your own team — is a big task. But it’s worth it. Employees are happier, more motivated, more creative. Companies enjoy better quality work, more innovation and higher employee retention.

Working Intrinsic Rewards Into Your Culture

The good new is that you don’t really need much from your company to get started. It’s not like trying to get a bonus for your team, or a promotion for a top performer. Just incorporating a few things into the way you manage can motivate them in ways money can’t.

There are a few keys to remember when motivating your team this way. Basically the work must:

  • Have some larger meaning than a paycheck: For instance, when it comes to the value of the work, you can tie what your employees do on a day to day basis not only to value for the company, but value for the customer. How does what you’re working on make someone else’s life better or easier? Spend some time making sure your team knows that their work has meaning and value
  • Make them feel like they are good at what they do: start by understanding what each member of your team enjoys working on. Understand where their passions lie, and what work they enjoy doing.Then, as tasks and projects come in, marry up team members with projects that let them leverage those strengths.
  • Allow them to make some choices about how they do it: introducing choice into your team’s culture can be tricker. Start small, and set your team up for success. When they start on a task, let them decide what their plan of attack is, instead of giving them one. If they ask you for direction, talk it through instead of telling them how you would do it.
  • Give them a connection to the rest of the team and the company: Team collaboration sessions are great opportunities for your team to relate to one another. Just be sure that everyone has an opportunity to contribute and that a few people don’t dominate the flow of ideas. The bonding created in open meetings like this gets teams feeling like they are part of something bigger, and they aren’t in it alone.

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