The Importance of Competence in Motivation

Learn about the importance of competence in motivation and how it affects performance through personal growth and development.

Competence is our need to feel effective at meeting everyday challenges and opportunities. It is demonstrating skill over time. It is feeling a sense of growth and flourishing.

Again, go back to children for a moment and consider how they constantly ask questions and explore, even when you’d rather they sit in their chair quietly while the adults talk. Children have a psychological need to learn and grow; bribing them with carrots or driving them with sticks diverts them from their natural love of learning. Children who succumbed to ineffective motivational techniques for learning and growing are now in the workplace hooked on poor motivation in the form of pay-for-performance plans and elaborate reward and incentive programs.

Developers, in many cases, are particularly sensitive to competence concerns, since much of the value of the developer is in their ability to accomplish tasks that others don’t have the skills to do. It’s partly why we’re so sensitive to the idea of a new programming language or platform coming along and rendering us obsolete—it takes away our sense of competence, and potentially “devolves” us to the status of “technologically illiterate” (or so we fear, anyway).

You can’t impose growth and learning on a person, but you can promote a learning environment that doesn’t undermine your people’s sense of competence. Help them focus on improving their competence, and they will repay you in numerous ways well beyond “improved performance.”

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