Intrinsic Motivation is the Key

A More Agile and Engaged Workforce

Nov 18

Surviving, let alone thriving, in an unpredictable, dynamic and global marketplace hinges on an organization’s ability to respond quickly and effectively to favorable or unfavorable unforeseen situations. A flatter, more responsive organization that relies more on its employees’ judgment, initiative and inventiveness can be the difference between failing and surviving.

Despite the increasing recognition that an agile, adaptable and engaged workforce is a key ingredient, many organizations are experiencing just the opposite. According to recent surveys by the Gallup Organization, actively disengaged employees – those who are potentially hostile to their organizations – outnumber engaged employees 2 to 1. The cost to businesses of disengaged workers annually in the United States is between $450 billion to $550 billion dollars.

Organizations and those who lead them need to rethink and be willing to move beyond the rhetoric of empowerment. Leaders must actively challenge and rethink the basic assumptions relied on for generations to motivate and improve performance productivity and encourage excellence. The old models and strategies that focus only on extrinsic means of motivating employees are clearly no longer as effective as they once were. Abandoning extrinsic means of motivating a workforce is not what is being suggested, but rather understanding that the need for new ways to motivate and engage the 21st-century employee is needed. As employees are asked to become more agile, flexible, collaborative and creative in what they have to offer an employer, the employer must reinvent and expand their reward systems to include the intrinsic motivators that meet the employees’ needs. 21st-century employees are motivated by meaningful work that challenges them professionally and personally. They seek opportunities that enable them to learn cutting-edge skills and become more self-directed.

Embedding an intrinsic reward system in your organizational DNA will increase the engagement of your workforce. Creating a framework requires that those in leadership understand not only what intrinsic motivation is but also how the concept of intrinsic motivation works. For it to be fully effective, it takes willingness on the part of those in leadership to give up control and trust in the creativity and intelligence of their employees.  So what does intrinsic motivation mean, and what are intrinsic rewards?

Intrinsic motivation is the energizing behavior that comes from within an individual out of will, choice and interest in the activity. Intrinsic rewards are the result of the behavior itself. Intrinsic rewards are the emotional high gained by achieving one’s purpose, a sense of self-directedness, and feelings of mastery. So when we talk about organizations committing to the strategy of intrinsic rewards as a motivational tool, we mean that the organizational culture focuses on the concepts of purpose, autonomy and mastery. Intrinsic rewards do not remove the concept of accountability but encourage self-management and interdependence between the employee’s goals and the organization’s strategic vision. An organization that adopts this strategy recognizes that external enticements alone are not enough to engage employees. These organizations know that what motivates an employee best is the desire to use their drive, intelligence, knowledge and skill set to direct what they do, when they do it, how they do it, and with whom. It acknowledges that once the survival needs of the person are met, the desire to succeed comes from inwardly striving, innovating and improving to meet the needs of both the individual and organization, thereby meeting the organizational objectives tied to them.

Investing and committing to incorporating the strategy of intrinsic rewards into the organization’s culture leverages its greatest asset – its people. Employees who are engaged and agile:

  • Use their judgment about the meaningfulness of the purpose (mission, vision and intent). They seek consistent and tireless communication on the objectives and vision without needing to be dictated to on the methods.
  • They value the degree of autonomy they have over doing things the way they believe best fulfills the purpose. They seek to understand the intent behind the objectives clearly and then rely on their knowledge to best discover the how, the technique, the timing and the tools needed to achieve it.
  • They use an internal sense of competence when judging the quality of their work. They are most fulfilled when the work meets or exceeds their personal standard, and real progress toward a goal is tangible. Their drive, excitement, curiosity and personal sense of accomplishment outweigh the bonus or the feedback from others.
  • They assess the value and effectiveness of their contributions, and the emotional high or sense of accomplishment is the reward for a job well done. These positive emotions and experiences (intrinsic rewards) encourage the employee to develop a mastery mindset that drives them to make progress toward achieving their purpose by seeking out new challenges that are not too easy nor difficult but require them to stretch and enhance their skills to accomplish them.

The research shows that there are widespread benefits associated with leveraging the power of intrinsic rewards for the organization and the employee. Organizations that support and encourage a culture of autonomy, purpose and mastery see the greater concentration on the part of their workers, report greater levels of effectiveness of their employees, and have higher retention rates among employees who want to be there rather than those who cannot afford to leave. They see increased levels of responsiveness and innovation, and their employees become the most effective marketers and spokespeople for the organization’s products and culture. Engaged employees bring others who are similarly motivated into the organization and serve as a primary resource for recommending and recruiting new and talented employees.   Organizations reap more tangible results as well: employees take fewer sick days, are less stressed, and have a better work/life balance. Diminishing error rates and costly mistakes lead to increases in client satisfaction and revenue and enhance the organization’s reputation for excellence. As the employee’s positive experiences build on positive experiences, opportunities for new learning and personal and professional growth become readily available. Their work satisfies their sense of self and well-being, and they flourish and grow with the organization.

How would you redesign your organization so that it better promotes more engagement on the part of the employees? Please share your ideas in the comments field below.