Imagine you could hire A-player employees without offering astronomical salaries.
Imagine you could hire employees who would stay with you for as long as you desire.
Imagine you could hire employees who are as motivated as the founders.
Is it really possible to reduce employee turnover and hire top performing, highly motivated employees?
Yes, there is. It all comes down to selection based on motivation. Why motivation?
Motivation directs behavior.
It is this highly valuable consequence of motivation that makes it a primary concern for managers, teachers, religious leaders, coaches, health care providers, parents and anyone concerned with mobilizing others to act. People are moved to act by very different types of factors. They can be motivated because they value an activity or because they fear punishment. They can be urged by an abiding interest or a bribe. They can act because of a sense of personal commitment or for fear of being judged. These contrasts between being internally motivated or externally pressured are familiar to all of us. While intuitively familiar to all, social scientists and psychologists have studied and measured motivation for decades. The theory of motivation, or Self-Determination Theory (SDT) was originally established by Edward L. Deci and Richard M. Ryan and has been detailed scientists across many disciplines . For example, SDT has been studies in education, entertainment and media, health care, organizations and work, video games, physical activity and exercise.
Why is motivation so important and why should you care?
Science has demonstrated that people whose motivation is genuine or self-authored when compared to those externally controlled to act have more interest, excitement, and confidence, which results in enhanced performance, persistence, creativity, self-esteem, and general well-being. This is true even when the people have the same competence or efficacy for the activity.
If you are the head of a human resource department at a large corporation, a founder at a high growth startup, or hiring your first employee as a small business owner, the recipe for success is the same: motivation. However, while the research is clear, very few businesses know how to select candidates based on their motivation and fall into the trap of old protocols of employee selection. However, those that do know how to use motivation to select team members go on to enjoy exponentially better success than their counterparts as highlighted by Jim Collins research in his seminal work published in the book Good to Great.
Here we define the different types of motivation, give examples of how different types of motivation manifest in real life, and discuss how motivation can be measured and used to select best suited applicants.
Intrinsic versus extrinsic motivation - Why do we do what we do?
There are two major factors that direct our behaviors. Motivation + context of our circumstances.
Once in a while we find ourselves sitting on the couch mindlessly binge-watching hours of season after season of comforting entertainment, struggling to find the energy to do our laundry and suffering from a total lack of motivation. But given other circumstances, say the night before a long-awaited vacation, we can’t wait to finish doing laundry to get ready for our vacation. More often people are motivated by grades, work evaluations, deadlines, money, status, fear, or social pressure.
When it comes to specific circumstances such as hiring for a specific role such as a computer programmer, a data scientist or a customer service representative, the circumstances remain constant for different people in these roles. Given this assumption, you can focus solely on motivation because if you select the individuals with the right motivation for the role, they’ll go to any length necessary to reach the shared goals of the organization. People with the right motivation will work with blood, sweat, and tears to self-improve over time. People with the right motivation will win Olympic medals, they win noble prizes, they create billion-dollar companies, and they change our world.
But what is the “right” kind of motivation? Motivation can be subdivided into two sub-categories: extrinsic motivation and intrinsic motivation.
Extrinsic motivation is externally directed. The desire to engage in an activity comes from outside pressures. Previously, we mentioned some examples of extrinsic motivation: grades, work evaluations, deadlines, bonuses, or a fear of being judged. However, extrinsic motivation can be much more nuanced and has been subdivided into how it is regulated or imposed. Take the young student who does homework because she understands the value for her chosen profession, and the student who does it so that his parents won’t ground him over the weekend. Both are forms of extrinsic motivation and the homework is not done for the sheer enjoyment, but the first case of extrinsic motivation entails a feeling of choice, whereas the latter is solely externally regulated. So while external motivation means doing something due to outside factors, how the person enforces this factor can be internal or external.
Intrinsic motivation, on the other hand, is the desire to engage in an activity that is self-rewarding on its own regardless of external rewards. This is motivation from within, by interests, curiosity, care, or instilled values. These intrinsic motives are not necessarily externally acknowledged, rewarded, or supported yet they can sustain efforts, passions, and creativity. In other words, intrinsic motivation is behaving “for its own sake”. The prototypical intrinsic motivation is a child’s exploration and play, but intrinsic motivation can be a resource of lifelong inspiration. This is the “right” kind of intrinsic motivation to select and cherish. In the context of learning new skills, if you read biographies of great entrepreneurs, such as Warren Buffet, Steve Jobs, Elon Musk and many other, you'll notice that the common denominator for all of their success was their intrinsic desire to learn and self-improve more than anything else.
The Value of Intrinsic Motivation in Industry
Curiously, in industry the benefits of intrinsic motivation on performance have also been long known and even before intrinsic motivation had a formal name, studies showed that individuals whose work met their “higher needs” performed better than their menial task counterparts. However, while many corporations chant the motivation mantra, too many too often revert to the carrot and stick model of motivation. While this approach can have short term benefits, they do not last and even supporters acknowledge that it can lead to and in fact encourage fraud, cheating, and deception. Considerable evidence, much too much to discuss here point to the better alternative: finding and supporting intrinsic motivation. Two studies of large U.S. banks found that intrinsically motivated employees felt greater satisfaction at work, performed better at their jobs, and, had lower levels of anxiety and depression. Many applications in health care also show physical and mental benefits from intrinsic motivation. As we mentioned previously: threats, deadlines, directives, imposed goals, pressured evaluations, and even tangible rewards diminish intrinsic motivation. A much more comprehensive overview of the research and support for the benefits of intrinsic motivation on performance and employee satisfaction can be found here.
How to Test for Intrinsic Motivation
• Assess motivation early
This may seem obvious but when the rare company assesses their employees’ motivation, they do so retrospectively. At this stage it is already too late if you are trying to ensure that your workforce is comprised of intrinsically motivated individuals. If you have hired individuals that do not have an interest or passion about the work they are doing, they likely never will. Therefore, you must identify the intrinsically motivated individual during hiring.
• Ask specific questions that do not betray the goal of the question
Bending the truth and saying what the interviewer wants to hear is an unfortunate but fundamental part of the selection process. An interviewer cannot simply ask the candidate to rank their level of intrinsic motivation, or provide a list of motivators and ask the candidate to select those that apply. The question must get at the motivation of the candidate without biasing the candidate toward the “correct” answer.
• Decrease risk of deceptive answers
To prevent candidates from composing what they believe is an ideal answer, the questions cannot be posed ahead of time such as in online applications or a CV/resume. This gives unethical candidates time to research and compose answers which do not accurately portray their motivation. You must put your applicants in the spot and give them a short time limit to respond.
• Use multiple trained experts
To accurately judge a candidate’s motivation from an answer you need multiple experts familiar with motivation theory and a structured rubric to guide assessment with numeric scoring system (i.e. no willy nilly arbitrary system). This eliminates bias and variability and so increases the likelihood of an accurate assessment.
How to Sustain and Support Intrinsic Motivation to Decrease Employee Turnover
• Challenge your employees
The feeling of successfully completing a challenging task is intoxicating. Top-performing and motivated employees perform at their peak when adequately challenged. Maintaining an optimally challenged team creates a positive feedback loop and promotes intrinsic motivation which in turn increases performance because the activity itself is self-rewarding.
• Provide positive feedback
The feeling and perception of competence is one of the drivers of intrinsic motivation. Therefore, maintaining an environment that fosters positive feedback, communication and acknowledgement are conducive to feelings of competence and can enhance intrinsic motivation.
• Promote autonomy
Choice and opportunity for self-direction and the feeling of ownership over one’s work increase intrinsic motivation because they allow your employees a greater feeling of autonomy. There are plenty of real life examples that support this. Teachers who are autonomy supportive (in contrast to controlling) catalyze in their students’ greater intrinsic motivation, curiosity, and desire for challenge. Autonomy-supportive parents, relative to controlling parents, have children who are more intrinsically motivated.
• Decrease negative extrinsic factors
Threats, deadlines, directives, imposed goals, pressured evaluations, and even tangible rewards diminish intrinsic motivation. The reason these approaches decrease intrinsic motivation is because they make clear to the individual that the causality is external. In other words it becomes painfully obvious that the reason they are doing their work is because of the possibility of negative consequences.
Of course intrinsic motivation while absolutely essential, is not sufficient to select the best employees.
Click here to find out how to select top-performing employees who are intrinsically motivated while cutting time and resources required by at least half.
To your success,
Your friends at SortSmart
SortSmart Candidate Selection