Extrinsic vs. Intrinsic Motivation

Learn to distinguish between extrinsic and intrinsic rewards, leverage intrinsic factors, and focus on individual preferences.

We spoke more of this in the “Motivation” section of this course, but as a refresher, remember that rewards and motivation fall into two core categories: “extrinsic” motivation, wherein an individual engages in a task or behavior for “external” reasons (such as fear of termination, or getting a bonus), and “intrinsic” motivation, wherein an individual engages in tasks/behaviors due to feelings or goals coming “from within” (such as, simply, the desire to do a good job, or the pleasure gained from being able to show off the work to friends and family, and so on). By their very nature, rewards like the ones being discussed in this section are “extrinsic,” and as such, less effective than the “intrinsic” rewards that (we hope) come along with the work.

That said, however, it is possible to “tap into” the intrinsic motivation of team members, if we are aware of what that intrinsic motivation is and how it carries into their work. Some factors that promote intrinsic motivation include:

  • Curiosity. Curiosity pushes us to explore and learn for the sole pleasure of learning and mastering.
  • Challenge. Being challenged helps us work at a continuously optimal level work toward meaningful goals.
  • Control. This comes from our basic desire to control what happens and make decisions that affect the outcome.
  • Competence. We look for ways to improve skills, whether work-related or not. (This is sometimes in conjunction with “control,” since improved skills give us more control over our ability to make good decisions to affect the outcome.)
  • Recognition. We have an innate need to be appreciated and get satisfaction when our efforts are recognized and appreciated by others. (This does not always mean “public recognition”—however, learning that I have earned the respect of colleagues I admire can mean much, much more than the applause at a company all hands, for example.)
  • Cooperation. Cooperating with others satisfies our need for belonging. We also feel personal satisfaction when we help others and work together to achieve a shared goal.
  • Competition. Competition poses a challenge—whether internal, such as “can we overcome this obstacle?” or external, such as “can we accomplish an outcome before another team?”—and increases the importance we place on doing well.

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