What motivates you in your career or job? A study shows instrumental motivation can be counterproductive to success.
What motivates you in your career or job? Is it the tasks you perform and their impacts on others? The purpose of the company? The pay cheque at the end of the month? The recognition you receive? The environment in which you work?
A colleague shared with me this very interesting article on The Secret of Effective Motivation from The New York Times. The writers explain the difference between internal motivation (i.e. where the relationship between your motives and what you do is inherent) and instrumental motivation. For example, one of the internal motives for a business leader could be to bring about useful innovations in their industry whereas the instrumental motivation could be fame gained from a position of power.
The article argues that internal motivation is not only stronger but instrumental motivation can also be counterproductive to success. It stipulates:
“[…] efforts should be made to structure activities so that instrumental consequences do not become motives. Helping people focus on the meaning and impact of their work, rather than on, say, the financial returns it will bring, may be the best way to improve not only the quality of their work but also — counterintuitive though it may seem — their financial success.”
It is a pretty important learning for anyone who wants to ‘motivate the troops’, but it is also a difficult balance to achieve. In my views, it places great emphasis on the recruitment process (i.e. get the right, ‘internally motivated’ people on board) and the employee engagement initiatives.
Another way in which the concepts discussed in this article can become beneficial is when applied to our own careers by asking ourselves:
- What is inherent to my position and really motivates me?
- How can I gain more of that or at least focus my attention more on it?
- How can I keep myself constantly in check to ensure my internal motives are being fulfilled? If they’re not, can I adapt my activities to make sure they are? Or is it time to move on?
As I wrote in a blog post while travelling through Sri Lanka, it’s a question of being able to keep our fire burning, finding a purpose we feel strongly about and going after it. As Confucious once said: “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.”