There are three basic types of motivation in psychology:
- Biological motivation or 1.0: refers to the most primitive type of motivation and the one that helps us to stay alive: thirst, hunger …
- Extrinsic motivation or 2.0: which motivates us to move due to external factors, usually due to the existence of penalties and / or rewards.
- Intrinsic motivation or 3.0: is the one that encourages us to do things for ourselves, as we enjoy it.
If we transfer these concepts to the workplace, we will find that the 2.0 motivation is the most common of all. But is it the best way to keep employees motivated and working at 100% of all their potential?
As the well-known American writer Daniel Pink said: “There is a disagreement between what science says and what companies do in terms of employee motivation”.
The candle problem
Karl Duncker, a German psychologist, designed in 1945 a simple experiment known as “The candle problem”:
A person is presented with a candle, a box of pins, and some matches with one goal: to fix the candle on the wall so that the melting wax does not fall on the table. Once the problem is explained, the time it takes for the person to find the solution is timed.
It may seem like a simple problem, but it really requires thinking “outside the box” since the solution is to empty the box of pins, nail it to the wall and place the candle there., which is a conclusion that people reached after an average of 7 minutes.
Using this same experiment, Sam Glucksberg decided to give it a twist and asked himself what would happen if people were given an incentive: would the problem be solved faster if we motivated people with a reward?
Following this premise, Glucksberg separated a group of people in two and with the same precept, one group was told that they would be rewarded based on how quickly they found the solution and the other was told nothing.
A typical assumption would be to think that the rewarded group would be more motivated and, therefore, have a better performance, as they would solve the problem faster. However, the reality was totally different. Their performance was catastrophic and they took a much longer to find the solution than the group that didn’t have a reward.
The higher the reward, the worse the performance
Sam Glucksberg didn’t stop there. He did another experiment just like the previous one, but this time, the two groups were told in advance what the solution was. The result: the rewarded group beat the non-rewarded group by a significant time difference.
What did Glucksberg illustrate with these experiments? That the benefits and rewards of extrinsic motivation, 2.0, only work when you know in advance what to do and when the goal is clear. In other words, when they have given us the solution.
This isn’t something typical in our current jobs, as the mission of each job position is to find a solution to certain problems, and in order to achieve this, the path is intuitive, imaginative and creative. You need to think “outside the box”.
When the solutions are not obvious and they require a certain effort and mental work from our part: the higher the reward, the worse the performance.
The way to amend this situation is to put aside the concepts of rewards and punishments and focus on another type of motivation: intrinsic (3.0)
Autonomy, mastery and purpose
Daniel Pink , a famous lawyer, writer, columnist and speaker, specialized in business, explains that there are three fundamental factors that promote motivation 3.0: autonomy, mastery and purpose.
- Autonomy: the impulse that leads us to direct our decisions without the constant supervision of another person.
- Mastery: the desire to be the best in some skill, aptitude or competition.
- Purpose: what moves us to do what we do in the service of something greater than ourselves.
These three pillars of motivation 3.0 are what move people and encourage them to continue growing, not only professionally but also personally. Pink illustrates his theory with two practical cases.
The first is from an Australian software company called Atlassian. The leaders asked their employees every few months that, for a whole day, they dedicate their time to work on another project, one totally different from the one they normally work on and, on top of that, a project of their own personal choice. At the end of the day, all ideas were discussed together and shared with the rest of the team.
With this practice, Atlassian was able to develop its best software. Why? By letting employees work independently (autonomy), dedicating their time to what they do best (master) in a task that they enjoy (purpose), they were able to encourage 3.0 motivation, enhacing performance and productivity. In fact, this practice was so successful that they went from dedicating one day every few months to using 20% of their total work time.
Google works in a similar way: employees work where, when and how they want, as long as they fulfil their job obligations and reach targets. In this way, productivity grows, the turnover levels decrease and engagement skyrockets.
Bet on motivation 3.0
Organizations should stop for a moment and reflect on the nature of the tasks that their employees do, as a reward system only works on very specific and, in most cases, mechanical tasks.
If a company is looking to promote performance and productivity, the best thing to do is to bet on intrinsic motivation, as it encourages creativity and high performance through autonomy, mastery and purpose.