Research Paper By Catriona McDermott
(Executive Career Coach, LUXEMBOURG)
My mother was this amazing person who managed to raise 5 children and excelled as a plumber, electrician, handyman, dress and curtain maker, cook and housekeeper. She had an endless abundance of creativity that involved, on top of all of the above, hobbies: gardening, flower arranging, theatre, community work and of course the essential knitting of jumpers and lace making. Her Intrinsic motivation that charged her energy and unfaltering commitment fascinated me. Where did she get it from? How did she maintain it for so many years day in day out? I have spent 20+ years in Talent Management and Acquisition I was still grey on what creates intrinsic motivation and curious as to learn what are today’s coaching applications of intrinsic motivation in Talent Management.
What is Intrinsic motivation Really?
The Oxford dictionary meaning is simple: ‘belonging naturally; essential’ (Intrinsic) and ‘a reason or reasons for acting or behaving in a particular way’ (motivation). An article written by Richard M Ryan and Stefano Di Domenico (1) looked at the 40+ years of Self Determination Theory Research (SDT – the principle framework for the study of Intrinsic motivation written by Ryan and Deci (2))as well as the review of emerging research in neuroscience by Menon V and Uddin L.Q., 2010 (3). The Article covered early research suggesting that intrinsic motivation refers to people’s spontaneous tendencies to be curious and interested, to seek out challenges and to exercise and develop their skills and knowledge, even in the absence of operationally separable rewards. Experimental research and field research guided by self-determination theory found that intrinsic motivation is better predictive of desirable outcomes such as enhanced performance, persistence, creativity, heightened vitality, self-esteem and better general well-being.
The review of emerging neuroscience suggests intrinsic motivation is associated with patterns of activity across large-scale neural networks and that evidence suggests alterations between neural networks of saliency Detection (a key behavioural and cognitive process of selectively concentrating on an aspect of information for learning or survival), Attention Control (an individual’s capacity to choose what they pay attention to and what they ignore) and Self-referential Cognition(the process of relating information, often from the external world, to the self – directed inwardly as opposed to the external world).
The research also suggests that intrinsic motivation arises from basic psychological needs for competence, autonomy and relatedness, which are the principal sources of enjoyment and vitality throughout life and proposed that intrinsic motivation is a life-long psychological growth function that depends on the support of basic psychological needs especially those for competence (feeling effective) and autonomy. That intrinsic motivation can diminish with behaviours that undermine autonomy, and that positive feedback and choice enhanced intrinsic motivation while negative feedback and other external impositions e.g. surveillance, deadlines etc. diminished intrinsic motivation. That competence and autonomy are seen as essential elements to engage intrinsic motivations and when these are thwarted, intrinsic motivations are undermined.
I came across Dr WilliamGlasser’sinventory of human basic needs (4)earlier in my career for candidate qualification in recruitment but I didn’t truly embrace its full meaning until I read Joshua Seong’s article(5) that adeptly summaries Glasser’s Choice Theory. Wherein it suggests that every part of our behaviour – thoughts, feelings, physiology and ‘doings’ is a choice. Every single part of it. That we have total agency in the entirety of our ‘total behaviour’ leading to a more responsible, empowered, co-dependency, blame-free, life. Choice Theory suggests that nobody can make you do or feel anything. That it is our choice how we filter what we hear, perceive or respond.
Choice Theory puts forward that the behaviours we choose are central to our existence. Our behaviour (choices) are driven by five genetically driven needs: survival; love/connecting/belonging; power/significance/competence, freedom/autonomy, fun/learning.
These are close parallels with self-determination theory (SDT(2)), which specifies autonomy, competence, and relatedness as essential needs.
According to Dr.Glasser, we humans are constantly addressing one or more of these five basic needs. We learn through experience what meets our basic needs and what doesn’t, so we can replace and change as we learn. We have an innate creative tendency that helps to create new possibilities in meeting those needs, depending on the circumstance. That all behaviour is purposeful, it’s our best attempt at the time given the current knowledge and skills to meet one or more of these basic human needs.
These basic human needs are the intrinsic motivations for everything we do.
- Survival – whether it be food, shelter, safety (the feeling of being secure). Because we have genetic instructions to survive, not only as individuals but as a species, this includes the need to reproduce.
- Love and Belonging – This need includes relationships, social connections, to give, to receive affection and to feel part of a group. It also addresses the need for security.
- Power – to be powerful is to achieve, to be competent, to be skilled, to be recognised for achievement and skill, to be listened to and have a sense of self-worth.
- Freedom – The need to be free is the need for independence, autonomy, to have choices and to be able to take control of the direction of one’s own life.
- Fun – The need for fun is the need to find pleasure, to play and to laugh. Glasser links the need for fun to learning. All of the higher animals (dogs, dolphins, primates etc) play. As they play they learn important life skills and as humans, we are no different.
I often ask executives who come not knowing their career path what would give them the most personal reward the question:‘What comes immediately to mind, not rationalised, not thought through, spontaneous, intuitively when I say’ – ‘I get paid to do the job I love..’ The answer invariable is linked to a basic human need.
Coaching Niches that Drive and Engage Intrinsic motivation
Learning and Team Building
It is true that “learning is child’s play”. As mentioned earlier research in SDT suggests that in addition to competence and autonomy, people have a basic psychological need for relatedness, the sense of feeling meaningfully connected with the others (1)and is embraced in the relatively new industry and coaching niche that is applied to learning and that drives intrinsic motivation and engagement in team building–Gamification. Gamification is changing the nature of learning. This applies to all types of learning from e-learning to team building. Gamification refers to using competition and strategy to practice team collaboration and engagement(7). Gamification has created a new coaching niche that has its own certification such as ‘Certified Facilitator Lego© or Serious Play©’.
Ryan and Di Domenico (1)also refers to games as types of activities that people find intrinsically motivating and that provide just-manageable challenges, clear proximal goals and immediate feedback (Nakamura and Csikszentmihalyi(6)). An example of this is given in crossword puzzles where feedback is given from the task itself (letter fit) and the likely feeling of a sense of joy from making progress at puzzles that challenge while helping sustain interest and persistence.
Guided Discovery is also a new learning method adopted by schools and universities- from language to science that engages intrinsic motivation. Both meta-analyses and field studies (Taylor et al., 2014; Froiland and Worrell, 2016(7)) point to intrinsic motivation as perhaps the most important form of motivation in school achievement. In Guided Discovery, students are active in self-discovery of knowledge and are recognised as being the most memorable than any other method of teaching according to MIT. (8)
Today, we see coaching competencies more and more stipulated in the advertised recruitment of teachers.
I have implemented a few performance management systems and processes over the decades and invariably they more or less consist of a set of desired performance outcomes that are relative to the corporate development strategy, team and company values and purpose. The Key Performance Indicators are weighted and scored and an individual learning and development plan is the last part of the system. The process of setting and reviewing is done with a certain amount of choice and negotiation between the manager and the individual.
Today due to agile working environments, PMRs are done quarterly and in some companies, they have thrown out the formal review process altogether and in place are Performance Review Conversations.
The engagement and management of intrinsic motivation is the essence of a successful PMR system and process whether it be a formal (documented) or conversation. It embraces meaningful purpose, acknowledgement and/or recognition for outcomes, it is done at set intervals (regular positive feedback) and it covers individual competence, growth, development and reward.
Successful feedback is consequential to maintaining intrinsic motivations (Kenneth W Thomas)(9). Hence why setting the scene and conducting performance reviews is an art on to itself and why there is such a lucrative business in coaching managers to develop healthy performance review conversations.
Intrinsic motivation is also generally perceived as more socially desirable than extrinsic motivation and the research by Reeve and Nix in 1997(10) found that even though the actual performances of subordinates were not different, superiors evaluated performance more positively if they were led to believe that their subordinates were intrinsically (vs. extrinsically) motivated to perform the task.
So for anyone reading this who has a performance review coming up or is meeting a new manager for the first time, I highly recommend bearing a ‘Duchenne Smile’ when talking about your work!
Corporate Social Responsibility
The purpose of corporate social responsibility is to give back to the community, take part in philanthropic causes, and provide positive social value and engagement. Businesses are increasingly turning to CSR to make a difference and build a positive brand around their company. Their effectiveness is also qualified by consumer attitudes towards a company as to whether the products have been made with high intrinsic motivation vs extrinsic (hand made goods perceived to have higher value vs mass-produced copies). When it comes to branding it’s all about the value we attach to something. Intrinsic motivators almost universally create stronger bonds when it comes to relationship elements such as loyalty and advocacy. In fact, one of the best summaries of the power of intrinsic motivation on branding is Simon Sinek’s(11) concept of “Leading with Why”, the motivation from within for a cause that people can care about and he identifies that increasing intrinsically motivated shoppers and customers is the foundation of organic growth.
Recruitment and Career Coaching
In recruitment, it’s no different. As hiring managers or as executive career coaches, we seek to understand why’ – the motivation of the candidate from within. Which is why the covering letter to job applications is now more commonly known as ‘the motivational letter’ and for senior executives, it is answered in their executive summary and CV detailing the answers to Why you were hired (the challenge), what were the results for the business (achievements) and the actions are taken to deliver those results(engagement)(12).
Employer Branding and Employee Communications
Employer Branding is still a relatively new industry and also a new coaching niche born out of engaging the readers’Intrinsic motivations.
Today, we have a proliferation of examples of employer branding attempting to motivate from within, to engage in the reader’s intrinsic motivations. The world’s largest professional social media network LinkedIn has been borne out of engaging intrinsic motivation. LinkedIn offers a platform for corporates to engage and showcase their intrinsic motivational branding from chemical and plastics manufacturing – now purposefully contributing to the local societies by donating recycled plastics in the form of park benches, to the use of language to showcase meaningful purpose ‘and love to see our employees thrive both professionally and personally’ to ‘work in a team that is dedicated to creating a future where innovative digital technologies allow greater access to cleaner energy’.
Employee Communication is also a new coaching niche and focuses on the life cycle journey experience. For companies with large geographically dispersed teams working in a virtual world it brings essential connectivity, purpose, builds team unity and drives engagement, it can promote information sharing and facilitate (with just in time information) achievement of priorities and support strategic decision making and feedback.
Ironically intrinsic motivation brings a whole new world of lucrative extrinsic benefits.
Bringing it all together
Our basic human needs are the intrinsic motivations for everything we do.
New science shows that intrinsic motivation is now linked to early rewards (the immediacy of the rewards is important) may even increase intrinsic motivation (Woolley, K. &Fishback(13)).
For decades, Intrinsic motivation successful engagement has been at the heart of effective learning and development, performance management, effective leadership and team building, recruitment and the qualification of candidates for job, team and company fit, to successful executive career coaching.
The challenge will be to specifically address individual basic human needs that create our intrinsic motivation to ultimately arrive in a place where we ALL are doing work that we love!
And my moment of learning and higher awareness was that intrinsic motivation is adeptly supported and engaged in ICF coaching competencies to deliver a truly great developmental and learning experience.
Stefano I. Di Domenico and Richard M Ryan Volume 11, Article 145, 2017 ‘The Emerging Neuroscience of Intrinsic Motivation: A New Frontier in Self-Determination Research. published 24 March 2017 Frontiers in Human Neuroscience DOI:10.3389/fnhum 2017.00145.
Ryan, R.M and Deci, E.L. Self-determination Theory 2000. 2017 and the facilitation of intrinsic motivation, social development, and well-being. Am Psychol.55, 68-78 and Basic Psychological Needs in Motivation Development and Wellness. New York Guildford Press.
Menon V and Uddin L.Q., 2010 Saliency, switching, attention and control: 214, 655-667; Menon V. 2015 ‘salience network in Brain Mapping: An Encyclopedic Reference Vol. 2, ed. A. W. Toga (Academic Press: Elsevier) 597-711
Dr William Glasser Choice Theory – Basic Human Needs https://www.wglasserinternational.org/courses/professional-development/choice-theory.
Nakamura J and Csikszentmihalyi M (Eds) 2014. The Concept of Flow and the Foundations of Positive Psychology (Netherlands: Springer) 239-263.
Taylor et al., 2014; Froiland and Worrell, 2016. Intrinsic motivational, learning goals, engagement, and achievement in a diverse high school. Sch.53, 321-336. SDT approach to predicting school achievement over time: the unique role of intrinsic motivation. Contemp.Educ. Psychol. 39, 342-358.
Kenneth W Thomas – Intrinsic motivation at Work – feedback p. 153-154, 232-233
Reeve, J and Nix, G. (1997) Expressing intrinsic motivation through acts of exploration and facial displays of interest. Emot. 21, 237-250.
http://www.simongeek.com – Leading with the Why
Association of Executive Search Consultants/BlueSteps
Woolley, K. &Fishback, A (2018) It’s about time: Earlier rewards increase intrinsic motivations. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 114(6), 877-890.