Internal Motivation

by Krishna on April 19, 2007

Many companies use a reward-and-punishment system to manage employees and work done. There are elaborate process manuals and schemes for calculating work metrics and related compensation. Good performance is rewarded. Poor performance is discouraged through various means — sometimes in tangible ways like money and promotions and sometimes otherwise, like being given unwanted assignments.

However, there are many problems with using carrots and sticks to manage a business.

  1. First of all, people only work on those tasks that have incentives. Which leads to more incentives elsewhere. Soon you run out of carrots to do all the necessary tasks.
  2. Incentives also become a fact of life and removing them is the same as lowering someone’s salary — not a wise thing to do.
  3. Using punishment may sometimes lead to unexpected side effects including unethical behavior. For example, if customer complaints are used as a measure, staff may decide to fix them without putting them into the reporting system.
  4. Even seemingly fair punishment systems have their flaws. Very few people like doling out and receiving punishments and this reduces morale within the organization.

Basically, any reward or any punishment is only a short-term tactic for getting things done. In the long-term, they fail to raise the overall performance of the organization and sometimes may even lead to dysfunctional behavior.

The right long-term strategy for a business is to hire people with passion for their work. This internal motivation drives them to do things that no reward can do. It makes them avoid problems that no punishment can prevent.

We would all like to have energized and energizing people working for us. But there are challenges:

  1. Internal motivation can be different from one person to the other. A challenging project can be thrilling for someone while striking fear and dismay into another person’s heart.
  2. The enthusiasm of a person is very dependent on external factors, primarily related to support from managers, team members, other departments, etc.
  3. Passion can decrease with time. Changes in a person’s life and added responsibilities can drive it down. For example, compare children and adults.
  4. Lack of results can drive down passion. When sales or revenue isn’t growing even though people are working very hard, it naturally dampens their mood.
  5. Sometimes, passion isn’t enough. Experience may be more important to the project. But experience means less passion — once you have done it, you don’t feel so excited anymore. Passionate people want new challenges.

There is a saying, “In June, the graduate goes out to set the world on fire. In July, he wonders if his matches are wet.

Internal motivation is hard to come by and even harder to sustain. If you are a manager, recognize it when you see it. Encourage it and help that person keep the innocence and fire.

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