Humanising performance management: part 5 - the psychology of motivation

Motivation is said to come in two primary forms: intrinsic and extrinsic. Intrinsic comes from within and extrinsic comes from outside of ourselves.

When people talk about motivation, the carrot and the stick analogy often comes up, but both of these are extrinsic motivators – they come from what someone/thing else is offering or threatening.

Intrinsic motivation comes from us, for example completing a puzzle for the love/satisfaction of problem solving; it occurs without any obvious outside rewards or consequences.

Put in really basic (and perhaps exaggerated terms), when it comes to their job an employee may be extrinsically motivated by their pay check and having bills to pay, or they may be intrinsically motivated to be creative or help people, or simply by the love of the job.

First things first, let’s take a look at the psychology behind motivation.

Psychological theories of motivation

According to the psychological studies of motivation, there are 6 key theories as to what lies behind or drives motivation:

  • Instinct theory – behaviour caused by evolutionary programming, for example engaging in play or shaming others to gain social acceptance
  • Incentive theory – behaviour caused by the promise of external rewards, such as being paid for working at your job
  • Drive theory – behaviour caused by a wish to reduce internal tensions, such as making yourself a drink when you’re thirsty
  • Arousal theory – behaviour designed to increase of decrease arousal or mental/physical stimulation, for example going for a run, watching a scary film, or working to solve a hard problem
  • Humanistic theory – best explained through Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, the idea that certain basic levels of needs must be met before moving on to fulfilling others
  • Expectancy theory – behaviour caused by thinking to the future and wishing to chase or cause the most positive potential outcome, for example applying for a new job, learning new skills, or moving to a new location

If you’d like to know more about the psychological theories of motivation, here is a great article from Very Well Mind.

How can performance management tap into motivation?

Performance management and motivation are very strongly linked. Everything from performance-based pay and financial incentives through to objectives set on an annual, biannual, or quarterly basis can push your people to give their all to their job.

Tapping into motivation is one of the most fundamental parts of getting the most out of your people, and your performance check ins, coaching sessions, and even simple 1:1s are a great opportunity to investigate.

Objectives as extrinsic motivators

When it comes to understanding motivation in performance management, objectives are the clearest starting point. Setting objectives gives your people something to work towards, providing both direction and a clear goal to achieve.

However, as we touched on last time, when objective-setting and assessment are simply left to an annual review, motivation can be lacking. A to-do list is great for a short space of time, but similarly to New Year’s Resolutions, give yourself a bunch of things to do over the course of the year and motivation is likely to cluster in two places: at the very start and as the deadline approaches.

Regular check ins and regular objective refreshes are a fantastic way to spark motivation and keep performance improvements consistent.

Need to be heard as in intrinsic motivator

A need or want to feel heard and listened to is a great example of an intrinsic motivator – and given our evolutionary need for social acceptance, it’s a pretty strong one. This is where the things we’ve talked about over the course of the series – being heard, taking time to listen, and using performance management to normalise supportive conversation at work – come into play.

However, this doesn’t only apply to any employees who struggle with their mental health. Feeling listened to can be a strong motivator for many people and this can include things like being able to openly provide feedback to line managers or about the organisation without fear of being reprimanded. Being listened to and being respected by your peers is an important indicator of social acceptance. So, your performance management check ins are the perfect time for a two-way conversation. It’s important to provide a judgement-free platform for your employees to be honest.

These are just a couple of examples of intrinsic and extrinsic motivators when it comes to the workplace and employee engagement. But important, they tap into a number of our most basic needs so are likely to act as strong motivators for many of your people.

Want to add some structure to your regular check ins and wish to motivate your employees? Download our performance and wellbeing check in template through the form below.

 

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