Building Better Performance Through Intrinsic Motivation

A photo of a motivated child

It might seem like common sense, but congratulating your staff on a job well done can increase motivation levels in your business at an exponential rate. Here, James Adonis reveals just how important the power of praise and other intrinsic motivators could be to your call centre.
No matter what industry you’re in, motivated and engaged employees are critical to your success. So how do you motivate your employees to achieve more? Most leaders turn to monetary or tangible rewards. After all, money is a great employee motivator, right? Wrong.

While it is important that your compensation plan helps attract and retain great employees effectively, numerous studies show that recognition is a much better retention tool and performance motivator than money. A study of over 2,000 employees by the Gallup Organisation, for example, found that 69% of employees prefer praise and recognition from their managers over and above money. Therefore, the key to developing – and maintaining – a highly engaged and motivated team is to use intrinsic motivators, not extrinsic motivators.

What’s the difference? Well, extrinsic motivation is a reward: a pay raise, a cash bonus, a gift. In other words, a tangible reward for performance given to the employee.

While it sounds harsh, I often think of extrinsic motivators as bribery. And the major problem with most extrinsic motivation programmes is that the programmes have to be continually repeated. In addition, any motivation they initially produce wears off.

And it gets worse: if overused, what at first seemed like a great reward quickly becomes an expectation instead of a reward, with the result being that the effectiveness of the incentive – and employee performance – flattens out. To make for more complications still, if the programme is discontinued – as it should be if it’s not producing results – employees may see the cancellation as a ‘take away’ and lose interest in their jobs.

What to do to turn the situation around

There’s a better, and cheaper, way to motivate your employees, though, and it’s called intrinsic motivation.

Intrinsic motivation comes from inside a person: it’s a sense of achievement, responsibility, job satisfaction, purpose, involvement, empowerment and ownership – all the things that make an employee feel that what they’re doing makes a big difference in their lives and in the organisation itself. If employees feel that what they’re doing is insignificant, they’ll feel insignificant; if, in turn, they feel their work is valued, they feel valued.

Sounds complicated? It’s not. The easiest way to provide intrinsic motivation is to say thank you. Recognising your employees with comments like: “Well done,” or “Great job” creates a greater and longer-term effect on employee motivation than providing a cheap reward that’s quickly forgotten. Best of all, in most cases intrinsic motivation doesn’t cost a cent.

Edward Deci, a professor from the University of Rochester in New York, is a pioneer of research on intrinsic motivation. In a major study, he offered money to a group of students as a motivator for them to solve certain problems. He also got another group of students to solve the problems without any extrinsic reward.

Interestingly, he found that the unpaid students were more willing than the paid students to keep working on the problems – even after the study had finished.

Angelo Azar is the business manager of IAG’s contact centre in Hurstville, Australia, and is a strong advocate of intrinsic motivation, too. He’s built a workplace environment that fosters innovation so that his employees are encouraged to come up with new ideas and positive changes, and he is continuously developing their skills so that they’re more fulfilled and empowered.

“There are gains from both extrinsic and intrinsic motivation, though it is those people that you can motivate intrinsically – be it through alignment in purpose or mission or unleashing their passion to achieve – that will be more likely to succeed,” says Azar. “Those who work for extrinsic rewards train themselves to complete minimal work in order to receive their reward. Those who are motivated intrinsically derive their satisfaction from the value of their work.”

What intrinsic motivation can do for your business

What are the benefits of recognising employees through intrinsic motivation? I’ve worked with dozens of companies in the past few years, and in each case effective intrinsic motivation produced these results:

  • Improved morale. This can be expected at both the employee level and at the team level.
  • Increased productivity. Employees who feel good about their jobs and their performance tend to perform at an even higher level.
  • Lower absenteeism. Employees who feel they’re important to the organisation look forward to coming to work.
  • Higher retention rates. Intrinsic motivators lead to better employee/supervisor relationships, increased engagement, and employees who feel valuable to the organisation – and want to stay with the organisation.
  • Improved bottom-line results.

In their groundbreaking work on intrinsic motivation, researchers Thomas Malone and Mark Lepper found that there are seven factors that promote intrinsic motivation. They are as follows:

  • Challenge: Goals need to be set that involve a certain amount of difficulty.
  • Curiosity: An activity that stimulates an employee’s attention.
  • Control: Allowing employees to have a choice in what happens.
  • Fantasy: Using imagination and games to promote learning in the workplace.
  • Competition: Comparing the performance from one employee to another.
  • Co-operation: Encouraging employees to help each other to achieve goals.
  • Recognition: Appreciating your employees’ accomplishments.

So how do you motivate like a master without spending a cent? Here are simple and effective ways to recognise and engage your employees:

  1. Praise. Recognise your employees for a job well done. Say thank you at the end of the day. Praise your employees for doing a great job. Catch them doing something well – and tell them how well they did. When possible, make your praise public; gather your team together for a moment and celebrate an accomplishment. Spend your day looking for and recognising great performance.
  2. Development. Consistently train your employees – and not just the high performers. Increase their skill base, prepare them to fill in at the next level, or make temporary assignments to different departments.
  3. Promote from within. An internal promotion not only recognises the employee involved, it also ensures that others know that advancement is possible. Make sure employees know what skills they’ll need to take that next step, and make sure you provide them with the resources to gain those skills.
  4. Create informal leadership roles. Leadership roles, even temporary ones, create a higher sense of engagement and recognition. Find ways to create informal leadership roles for your employees, for example, allow them to lead a small project, train new employees, give facility tours to visitors, or simply share experiences from a training seminar or inter-departmental assignment with the rest of the team.
  5. Track and post key performance metrics. Make sure employees know how they – and the department – are performing. Post results, discuss improvement needs and, most importantly, celebrate accomplishments. Make sure what you measure is in line with your company’s goals; not only will you improve performance, but your employees will better understand their place in, and importance to, the organisation.
  6. Communicate. Employees in almost every company I’ve worked with say they don’t receive enough communication – formal, informal, written, verbal: you name it. Your employees want to hear what’s going on. And just as importantly, they want to share their ideas, their suggestions and their concerns. Most managers feel they’re communicating enough; most employees disagree. Start communicating more today.

What to do next

And that’s just a start. There are numerous ways to motivate and engage your teams; I’ve included hundreds in my book Love Your Team. It’s likely, for example, that you already have a few reward and recognition programmes. Before you make any changes, gather your management team and list all the extrinsic and intrinsic motivators you have in place. Not only will they have great ideas, they’ll also feel more engaged.

If yours is like most organisations, chances are your list of extrinsic motivators will be longer. If so, institute more intrinsic motivators so that there is at least a balance between the two. Better yet, put more intrinsic motivators in place. You’ll reduce your costs and create higher-performing work teams.

Once you’ve developed your ideas as a management team, discuss them with your employees – especially if measurable performance targets are involved. Employees are truly motivated when they work towards goals that mean something personally to them and that they had a hand in creating. If it’s appropriate, negotiate quantitative goals with your employees. Make the goal is a challenge to reach but still attainable, and provide regular feedback.

Remember, don’t just reward your employees; recognise them for their achievements, for their contributions and for their role in the team.

And most importantly, say thank you as often as you can. You – and your bottom line – will be glad you did.

James Adonis is an engagement expert. He consults managers on how to engage their employees, and individuals on how to engage themselves. He is also a motivational speaker and workshop facilitator
Tel: +65 2 9331 2465
Website: www.jamesadonis.comJames Adonis’ newly released book “Love your Team” shows managers how to halve their employee turnover in less than 90 days. Providing managers with hundreds of ideas on how to get their employees to be totally loyal to their organisation, Adonis reveals in the book that the most effective way to retain employees is by implementing the right kind of engagement initiatives.Love Your Team can be purchased via Adonis’ website:

Author: Jonty Pearce

Published On: 31st Aug 2006 - Last modified: 23rd Jul 2020
Read more about - Call Centre Management, , , ,

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  • u did a nice job but please can you send something to me on psycho-social factors and how they affect enterprenurial potential .

    tope 11 Apr at 09:30
  • Hi Tope

    I’m not sure that we have anything on this. I think that this may call for a Google search.

    Do any other of our readers have anything on this?



    Editor 11 Apr at 10:29
  • I thoroughly enjoyed this article. It has provided a great deal of information which has led me to improve the way I deal with employees. It led me to realize that my employees aren’t there to serve me, but for me to serve. Employees should be confident in what they do.

    This not only serves well in the workplace, but also at my home. This can serve to improve relationships with my children too. Empower them to want to do better, teaching them and helping them to learn empowers them to do better. Words of praise is always good.

    Thanks for a great article.

    Tracy 4 Nov at 19:53
  • Love this article! I will definitely use the suggestions here.

    Pika 6 Apr at 19:42
  • I really appreciate your job. please can you identify the constrants that may affect the implementation of these intrinsic motivation? thanks i’m looking forward to hearing from you.

    Stella Udonsek 12 Jul at 20:52
  • Excellent – thank you

    Philip hardstone 5 Feb at 06:35
  • This article, to my understanding, seems to misrepresent the theory of intrinsic/extrinsic motivation – even according to Deci who is quoted in the article.

    Deci says “The most basic distinction is between intrinsic
    motivation, which refers to doing something because it is inherently interesting or enjoyable, and extrinsic motivation, which refers to doing something because it leads to a separable outcome.”

    Inducing intrinsic motivation therefore is more about giving your staff work which they find genuine interest in. Tasks which they are happy to carry out regardless of reward, because the act of carrying it out is rewarding in and of itself.

    Praising your personnel, unlike the claims in this article, is actually extrinsic motivation. The praise is a separate outcome to the reward for doing a job well. If a staff member engages better in an activity they don’t much like doing, because it’s likely to result in praise, that is not intrinsic motivation. That is by definition extrinsic motivation.

    Also, the conclusions drawn by the author with regards to the examples about paid/unpaid students shows a misunderstanding of the concepts, and a misrepresentation of Deci’s findings. The students who were paid, saw that extrinsic motivator of money as a the main motivation – so stopped working when the reward was achieved regardless of their interest in the problems. Those students not paid had no other extrinsic reward (not even the chance of praise), so to do the task they relied solely on finding interest in solving the problems… which meant some students continued after the end of the experiment. Had those students been praised when the experiemnt was over for a ‘great job’ they probably would have stopped too. Also, had the task been far more mundane, where it was almost impossible to intrinsically motivate oneself, the findings would have been fairly different.

    I do not find much of the advice later to be particularly bad even if based on incorrect theory, but the misinterpretation of the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic theory does do an enormous disservice to this subject area and the success of managers.

    Intrinsic motivation is undoubtedly a great way to increase not only production but a sense of self in staff. That is NOT done by praising them like a pet when they do something well. It’s done by understanding what makes them tick, listening to them and creating opportunities for them to carry out tasks which are both rewarding and are of value to the organisation.

    Scott Herrington 7 May at 19:11
  • Great point on intrinsic motivation as opposed to monetary, and how it can boost many things from employees.

    tyler 23 Jul at 21:25
  • Hello,
    Good article!
    Best book.
    keep it up James

    Revocartus 4 Aug at 19:00
  • useful article. thank you

    Anonymous 15 Nov at 03:15