New research published in Motivation Science confirms that sales managers under pressure to deliver results too often make an old mistake when trying to motivate their teams.
Relying on short-term extrinsic motivators while ignoring intrinsic motivators is a common approach in the business world, even though motivation experts have repeatedly found that this approach not only fails, but actually leads to a reduction in motivation.
What’s the difference?
Many managers who really need to understand this fundamental business principle may ask: what is the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation? In short, an intrinsically motivated person performs an action or behaviour for internal satisfaction or fulfillment, whereas someone extrinsically motivated is pursuing some external outcome.
Pay incentives and the fear of termination are obvious examples of extrinsic motivators for a sales team, while examples of intrinsic motivators include a desire to excel, the adrenaline rush that comes with closing a huge deal, or the urge to make a difference in the world.
Sometimes the distinction may be blurred. The craving for recognition, for example, is a potent motivator. It may be seen as intrinsic, extrinsic or both, but the important point for a manager to understand is that it not directly related to a material reward.
Wise people have longed sensed that the most powerful human drives come from within, not from carrots and sticks. Revered Chinese philosopher Confucius wrote over 2,000 years ago: “The will to win, the desire to succeed, the urge to reach your full potential … these are the keys that will unlock the door to personal excellence.’’
And the latest research only confirms it. In a new study published in the journal Motivation Science, scientists concluded that the power of intrinsic motivation is severely underutilised by employers, and that people rewarded with financial incentives are in fact often less interested in completing a task well in future.
Dr Kou Murayama of the University of Reading, who led the research, said: “Society has a deep-rooted misunderstanding of how motivation works, and employers are repeatedly shooting themselves in the foot with the frequent use of rewards to encourage certain behaviours or increase effort.
“Our work shows we need to correct our strong misbelief in a carrot and stick approach to achieve sustained motivation among workers.”
A study of motivation reported in the Harvard Business Review came to the same conclusion, and found it to be equally true for employees in the US, India, Australia, Britain, and Taiwan.
Unleashing the power of intrinsic motivators requires an investment: in time to learn about human motivation and how best to harness it; time to get to know each individual person in a team, and what really drives them; in finding ways to give employees a sense that they are having a meaningful impact; in creating a work environment that encourages excellence. Businesses like ZACK Group are powered with the motivation to help businesses access team members that are fuelled in these very ways.
But it may just prove to be the best investment a sales manager, or indeed any business leader, can make. As Reading University’s Dr Murayama says: “Providing a workplace that meets people’s needs and improves job satisfaction is likely to have a greater impact on employees than money.’’