• 03.03.10

Has Extrinsic Motivation Left the Building?

“I don’t motivate my players. You cannot motivate someone, all you can do is provide a motivating environment and the players will motivate themselves.” Phil Jackson, coach of the L.A. Lakers

“I don’t motivate my players. You cannot motivate someone, all you can do is provide a motivating environment and the players will motivate themselves.” Phil Jackson, coach of the L.A. Lakers


I have always been a big P4P – pay for performance – guy. Rewarding Employees for every increase in performance seemed to be the way to go. Now, not so much. As the Great Recession sweeps away the remaining vestiges of the Industrial Economy’s Command & Control style of management (yeah, I know C & C has made a come back – as dictatorial practices always do in times of great fear and uncertainty – but it’s only temporary), it is becoming more apparent that the way we compensate for performance is archaic (i.e. paying Employees an hourly wage to perform tasks only leads to Employees taking more time to perform the task or more supervision to ensure they will not take more time to perform the task).

While using Extrinsic Motivation – raises, bonuses, and time off – to attempt to increase performance has some value in workplaces where rote/routine tasks cannot be avoided ( assembly line), at best, Extrinsic Motivation generates only short term results because of the ever escalating sense of entitlement Extrinsic Motivation encourages – Employees perform at the lowest level for which they are rewarded. Consider Vasili Alexeyev, the 1960’s – 1970’s super heavyweight Russian Olympic Lifter. The Russian government rewarded him with a predetermined amount of money each time he broke the world record which he held. And he broke the world record at every weight lifting event in which he competed– by exactly ¼ pound! He had no incentive to perform at his highest level to collect the Extrinsic reward because he didn’t have to! Like Alexeyev, Employees faced with the opportunity to collect Extrinsic rewards may perform only at the level necessary to get the reward, may stop performing once they have collected the reward, and may sacrifice other aspects of the work (i.e. quality) that they don’t need to do to get the reward.

The traditional application of Extrinsic Motivation (and this has nothing to do with paying people fairly – that’s a given or no motivation works!) as the preferred method of generating Employee commitment and desire to perform is a tired idea in today’s workplace where we want/need Employees to be self-directed high performers. Yet the use of Extrinsic Motivation won’t die easily because most managers continue to subscribe to Theory X assumptions about Employees – since their only interest in the job is money, they will show little ambition without an incentive based motivation program.

But there is an alternative: Instead of using Extrinsic Motivation to attempt to generate high performance, successful managers are using an integrative motivation strategy that emphasizes performance and satisfaction equally, based on these elements of Intrinsic Motivation:

1. Giving Employees more control over their jobs – Not giving Employees control over what they need to do, but rather how they need to do it.

2. Giving Employees the opportunity for growth in their job – Helping Employees develop the Skill Set necessary to do the job & presenting Employees with challenging work that keeps the job interesting.


3. By recognizing Employees need a defined Purpose that allows them to not only Do the job but to also Care about the job.


The Bottom Line: As Bob Dylan sings: “The times they are a changin’.” And the way you seek to generate greater Employee involvement, commitment and performance needs to reflect the changes occurring in the Knowledge Economy.

Question: Is your attempts at Extrinsically Motivating your Employees actually keeping them from performing at their highest level?

Paul Glover, President

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