One of the first things we learn in Economics about making people perform better at work is how reinforcement and punishment modify people’s behavior.
In a workplace setting that would mean that when employees get some sort of reward for doing a certain task they’ll continue to do it faster and better as long as the reward gets bigger as well. The more (and more complex) tasks an employee is doing, the bigger the salary they’ll receive for their work.
On the other hand, when employees are punished for an action considered negative they’ll avoid repeating it as much as possible. If they are late to work once they’ll get a verbal warning; if they are late three times they’ll get a written notice in their employee file; if they are late too many times they can get fired. Increasing the punishment will result in employees avoiding doing negative actions at work — including having a poor performance.
The only problem with this behavioral theory is that it assumes people to be just like donkeys — walk miles with heavy sacks on their backs just to eat a carrot or avoid having their rear beaten with a stick. But we people are supposed to be superior beings. The carrot and the stick approach can’t possibly work on us every time.
And it doesn’t. Research is actually quite clear on that. Once a work task involves the least amount of cognitive skills, the carrot and the stick theory falls flat on its face. In case of complex tasks that put our brains to work, the bigger the reward, the poorer the performance. It seems that we are superior beings after all.
Extrinsic motivation (be it positive or negative) is not enough to make people perform better at work. Not in this day and age. Intrinsic motivation — having autonomy in which and how we perform a task, being able to get better at what we do and having a higher purpose than money from out jobs — is what actually improves employee performance and makes them wanting to stick around.
As someone in charge of the Learning and Development Department of a business organization, you know how important employee motivation (to both learn and work) can be for company success. But finding, maintaining and increasing motivation doesn’t imply a straight path. However, a great starting point could be TED Talks.
As the folks form Fundera say, one of the best ways to increase motivation is to watch or read inspirational content. TED offers motivational videos on a variety of topics, and plenty of speakers love the one about motivation. These talks will get you thinking about what motivation is, help you analyze the complexities of what drives us, and inspire you to live your best life.
Fundera went on to collect exactly 17 TED Talks on motivation and created an infographic:
So watch them all, share them with your team and with the employees in your training programs, and even with your friends! Not one minute will be wasted.