At think2perform, we know businesses recognize a key component of success lies in keeping employees productive and engaged, in other words, motivated to achieve. However, in our work, we’ve seen many leaders douse the fire of employee motivation despite best intentions.
As a member of CREIO (The Consortium for Research on Emotional Intelligence in Organizations), think2perform continues to inform our leadership consulting practice with research from leading academics and institutions. During a recent CREIO event, we had the privilege of hearing Ed Deci, a Professor of Psychology and Gowen Professor in the Social Sciences at the University of Rochester, and director of its human motivation program, discuss his Self-Determination Theory which differentiates motivation types ranging from autonomous to controlled. Following is a brief overview of his work and some recommendations for building environments that increase employee motivation.
Deci’s theory identifies three psychological needs essential for human well-being and healthy development: competence – the need to be good at what they do; relatedness – the need for connection with others; and, autonomy – the need to fully engage with willingness and choice, note this definition does not refer to independence or detachment.
Because people have a fundamental human need to be autonomous, rather than controlled, tangible rewards can undermine motivation. And negative feedback can completely extinguish motivation. Better to position an unwanted behavior as a problem to be solved together, thus engaging the employee around the needs for competency, relatedness and autonomy.
Of course, we realize that many things in life are not inherently motivating, especially in the context of a work environment. So how can employers foster motivated employees? By supporting autonomous motivation.
Basically, autonomous motivation includes: a) intrinsically motivated behaviors – those driven by activities an individual finds interesting and enjoyable; b) extrinsically motivated behaviors that have been fully internalized and integrated; and, c) emotion-motivated behaviors, when individuals integrate external regulations in an effort to meet needs such as relatedness.
To promote autonomous motivation, employers are best served in creating environments and positioning activities in ways that facilitate satisfaction of the basic psychological needs.
How to create environments that foster autonomous motivation:
- Relate from the employee’s perspective
- Encourage self-initiation & exploration
- Offer relevant choices
- Make instruction relevant to the employee’s life
- Provide optimal challenge
- Offer meaningful rationales
- Give positive feedback
- Be interested and engaged as an authority
If you question why these steps are necessary and why employees don’t simply execute duties as required, after all, they are being compensated. Consider this: individuals who are autonomously motivated display greater persistence, increased creativity, better problem solving and improved health and well-being. In other words, they consistently outperform, while exhibiting greater commitment and overall satisfaction.
Reflecting on Deci’s presentation, Doug Lennick, CEO of think2perform, remarked, “It made me better understand why our goal achievement process, WDYWFY works, when it works. And when why, when it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work.” Lennick continued, “When a leader looks at an employee, it’s important to look for a flame that represents potential and goodness and then, as leader, be the billow that fans that flame.”
Developing environments, roles and tasks that nurture competency, relatedness and autonomy in your employees help fuel individual greatness and better position your organization for success. Take a moment to review your organization and your own behavior: Are you stoking the fires that burn inside your employees?