Cezanne HR
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High performance: driven by passion, not perks

Financial reward has its place, but recent data suggests that what motivates most employees goes much deeper than this. 

17th Feb 2020
Cezanne HR
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Motivation. It’s a fascinating topic that delves into the realms of behavioural psychology. What really drives people to achieve – and indeed, sustain – high performance? Are the things that motivate ‘David in sales’ the same or different to those that motivate ‘Amy in finance’?

The days of ‘control and command’ management are thankfully nearing an end and the HR community understands the need for autonomy in high performance teams. 

According to new research from Cezanne HR, UK employees cite ‘having an interest in the work they do’ as the thing that most inspires them to perform at their best. In contrast, just 7% of employees chose ‘perks and benefits’ as their top motivator, confirming that whether employees recognise it or not, it is intrinsic motivation (where an individual engages in their work simply because they find it personally rewarding) that is most effective in achieving long term employee performance and productivity gains.

It’s a finding that backs up what much of the HR community, along with motivational experts such as Dan Pink, have been saying for a long time: extrinsic motivation (when a person is motivated to perform for want of a reward or to avoid a punishment) has its place, but it cannot – and should not – replace the intrinsic.

Motivating with pay and perks: a short-term strategy

The long-running debate around pay and performance, and the more recent focus on workplace perks (office ping pong, anyone?) provide prime examples from which to examine the differences between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. Truth be told, employers can – and often do – motivate their employees to achieve high performance via the offer of a pay rise or bonus.

The problem is this type of extrinsic motivation will be short lived because it’s not driven from within the employee. It’s also a slippery slope to venture down because organisational leaders are likely to find themselves having to award subsequent pay rises simply to maintain the same level of performance and productivity output.

An employee who pursues mastery in their chosen field does so for the personal reward it brings them.

The same can be said of perks. Anyone who’s been in a shared workspace recently will understand. Beer on tap, video games, the list goes on. Most employees will certainly appreciate these perks, but as with monetary reward, the effect in terms of motivational gains will soon wane as the memory of the particular reward fades and the novelty of office perks wears off.

So how do we foster more of the intrinsic?

One of the most recognised self-motivation models was coined by Dan Pink in 2009. According to Pink, three key factors have to be present for employees to feel intrinsically motivated to achieve high performance.

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1. Autonomy

To be self-driven, employees need to feel in control of what they do, when they do it, and whom they do it with. The days of ‘control and command’ management are thankfully nearing an end and the HR community understands the need for autonomy in high performance teams. Swapping traditional norms, such as 9-5 hours for flexible working is just one of many examples of how HR and business leaders can support and empower their employees to work more autonomously. With 60% of our survey respondents putting ‘flexible working’ top of the list when asked what would enable them to perform better in the workplace, it’s clearly something that employees want too.

Technology is another means of supporting greater employee autonomy because it enables people to play a more active role in – and take greater ownership of – their own performance development. With the ability to schedule their own ‘check-ins’, suggest future goals and objectives, and essentially steer their own career path and skills acquisition in the direction they want, the foundations for autonomy at work are set, and the employee can start moving towards self-driven motivation. This is certainly where we want to get to, but our research suggests we still have a way to go: nearly half (42%) of all performance reviews are still being documented in printed form, and only one in five UK employees are currently using performance management software.

2. Mastery

The second element required for intrinsic motivation is mastery. In layman’s terms, that’s ‘the desire to improve.’ According to Pink: “If you are motivated by mastery, you'll likely see your potential as being unlimited, and you'll constantly seek to improve your skills through learning and practice”. In other words, an employee who pursues mastery in their chosen field does so for the personal reward it brings them.

For example, a marathon runner who is motivated by mastery might be driven through a determination to surpass their personal best. For the runner, the gratification lies in achieving that goal – and that goal only. They are self-motivated because they are passionate about running, not because they want a medal.

3. Purpose

Purpose – we all need one in order to feel that our contribution is valued. If this isn’t present, or if we can’t see how we fit into the ‘bigger picture’, engagement and motivation will be limited, and high performance will be unachievable. Those who feel they are working to achieve something larger than themselves, however, are often the most engaged and high performing.

Workforce management can play a big role, too. Placing an employee on a project that connects their personal goals with those of the organisation is one way to foster a strong sense of purpose – or in some cases, nursing being a prime example, even create a vocation. Ethics and culture are key here.

Over and above Pink’s model, HR teams are also seeing performance management gains by doing away with the ‘one size fits all’ approach to performance management. The need for employers to tailor performance management programmes to the individual employee is paramount.

It’s a point that takes us back to ‘David from sales’ and ‘Amy from finance’. They’re different people with different roles, needs and priorities. The key to high performance therefore lies in understanding what makes an individual employee tick. Gaining an understanding of what they enjoy doing – and indeed, what they don’t enjoy doing – will enable your organisation to better plan and support their professional development so that their passion for the work remains constant. Get this right and intrinsic motivation will flourish.

Interested in this topic? Read Motivating employees? Start with their four basic emotional needs.

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