BY ROWENA CROSBIE, president, Tero International

There are two types of motivation: internal and external. To understand the difference, reflect on this question: What motivates you to do a good job? 

If you’re like most people, your list includes things like doing meaningful work, achieving goals, seeing others grow and succeed, being challenged, and working as part of a team.

These are all examples of internal motivators. McGregor and Doshi, in their book “Primed to Perform,” describe three types of internal motivators.

The first is play. Play occurs when you are engaged in an activity simply because you enjoy doing it. The work itself is its own reward. Play is what compels you to take up hobbies. Many of us are lucky enough to love our work. Play at work should not be confused with playing Ping-Pong or foosball in the break room. 

The second motive is purpose. The purpose is when the outcome or impact of the work is why you do it. You may not enjoy the work you do, but you value its impact. You may work as a nurse, for example, because you want to heal patients but you may not enjoy many of the duties in your job.

Potential is the third motive. This is when the work enables a future outcome aligned with your personal or professional goals. When a company describes a job as a good steppingstone, they’re attempting to instill the potential motive. 

In their book “The Leadership Challenge,” authors Kouzes and Posner define leadership as the art of mobilizing others to want to struggle for shared aspirations. When we remove the words “want to” from the definition, people are just struggling. How do leaders mobilize others to want to struggle for shared aspirations? They tap internal motivation. Interestingly, leaders more commonly look to external motivators such as rewards, incentives, and benefits. There are risks.

McGregor and Doshi caution leaders to beware of cobra farms. When India was a British colony, there was a bounty placed on dead cobras. At the time, cobras were plentiful and roaming wild. With compensation for dead cobras, suddenly cobra farms started manifesting. This created the wrong solution as there were many times more live cobras being bred. When the government realized the cobras were being farmed, they removed the bounty. What do you suppose the farmers did with the cobras? They released them. Beware of the incentives and rewards put in place, and how success is measured.

We’ve all seen examples of cobra farms in modern organizations. Incentives or quotas to produce sometimes result in goals achieved at the expense of ethics, values, and customer interests.

Does this mean pay and benefits aren’t important? Research shows that money is damaging when it is positioned as the motivation for the work instead of acknowledgment for a job well done.

According to motivation researchers, rewards like pay, incentives, and benefits are hygiene factors. They are like room temperature. When they are where they should be — not too high or too low — we don’t think about them. When they are too low, they tend to produce dissatisfaction. However, when they are too high, they do not produce higher levels of motivation. In sum, the absence of them can be demotivating, but they are not, in themselves, motivating.

Leaders who believe they can pay their way out of low employment or talk people into being motivated will be frustrated.

Leaders who choose the tools to tap internal motivation will succeed in creating an environment where people want to struggle for shared aspirations.

rowena_outsideRowena Crosbie View Bio