Why Growth Opportunities Are Critical At Work

Authored by Matt Hommel

As best-selling author Daniel Pink said in his book Drive, “human beings are motivated by purpose, autonomy and a drive towards mastery,”

The critical factor in Pink’s quote is the word autonomy. The old carrot and stick philosophy is not very beneficial in the long game. Carrots and sticks can only elicit external motivation, which is an unreliable source, and creates an organization driven by superficial means. Internal motivation on the other hand will always be more powerful. If you remove the carrot or the stick, behavior halts; this places a tough burden on management and individuals because it requires a steady diet of fresh carrots, or bigger sticks. As we know, we simply cannot keep up to date by providing more and more of these items.

Internal motivation puts people in the driver seat and lets them be the CEO of their own level of motivation. It is both reliable and sustainable over the long haul. Autonomy, is the gateway for team members finding their own source of internal motivation. Research has demonstrated that extrinsic rewards can be effective for achieving algorithmic tasks, particularly those that require a specific existing formula for an outcome, and that are a means to end. However, those who demand innovation, flexible problem-solving, and conceptual understanding to perform at their peak—the former can be very dangerous for long-term results.

Goals that group members set for themselves that are devoted to their personal development towards mastery, and are meaningful to them, are almost always healthy and lead to positive outcomes. Conversely, goals forced by others can sometimes have dangerous side effects, unless there is an allowance of autonomy and purpose provided for the individual to reach those goals.

External vs. Internal Motivation

External motivation often times arises from a deficiency in one’s life that they are trying to take care of. Put differently, this is like a hole looking to get fixed, a wound looking to have a band aid slapped over it. In a business management perspective, this can confer how a raise in a job may motivate someone to work harder for that raise; however, once that individual achieves that raise it is likely their motivation plateau’s, or even regresses towards their pre-raise motivational level. Likewise, this individual might only feel satisfied by this raise for a couple weeks, then the mind will crave something new. One psychologist who helped raise awareness about deficiency and it’s implications on motivation was humanistic psychologist Abraham Maslow.

According to Maslow, as humans we have what are called deficiency needs, and we have growth needs. Deficiency needs are things that arise due to deprivation and only motivate people when unmet. For instance, an individual might be thirsty (water deficient, etc.) and therefore they are motivated to go get a glass of water. However,  once this need is satisfied, motivation for that glass of water has most likely evaporated. Conversely, we also have growth needs, growth needs are contrary to deficiency needs; this being that as these needs start to get met, we actually become more motivated the more these needs are met, opposite to what happens with deficiency needs. Growth needs, according to Maslow, do not result from a lack or deprivation of something, but rather as an intrinsic desire to grow as a person.

At the very top of the hierarchy is self-actualization, self-actualization is essentially the highest form of human existence, and is believed to provide the most authentic basis of internal happiness. Self-actualization can be defined as – seeking personal growth and peak experiences, as well as a desire to become everything one is capable of becoming.

Internal Motivation meets the working world

In 1968, a man named Frederick Herzberg was one of the first people to study the idea of both external & internal motivation in business management. Herzberg was very curious how motivation played out in the work place, and how you can influence it. In fact, his publication One More Time, How Do you Motivate Employees has been one of the most influential articles ever in the field of business management, and is the most requested article from the Harvard Business Review.

Herzberg developed a theory known as Hygiene Theory, this theory postulates that there are such things as hygiene factors & motivating factors in the working world. Hygiene factors, also referred to as job dissatisfiers, are extrinsic elements of a work environment; while motivating factors, also referred to as job satisfiers, are intrinsic elements of work that lead to job satisfaction. Herzberg believed that both hygiene and motivating factors were two components that were entirely distinct from one another. For instance, if you eliminate a dissatisfying factor, it may create peace, but it won’t increase motivation and productivity.

Herzberg’s model is essentially in direct alignment with humanistic psychologist, Abraham Maslow’s model is of motivation, otherwise known as the Hierarchy of Needs. This being that hygiene factors (job dissatisfiers) are very close to deficiency needs though taking place in the work environment. Motivating factors (job satisfiers) are like growth needs taking place in the work place. Examples of hygiene factors include, quality of supervision, physical working conditions, relationships with others, etc. Motivating factors are like growth needs on Maslow’s model in that they include things like opportunities for personal growth, responsibility, and achievement.

According to the psychological theory, Self-determination theory,  humans primarily have three innate psychological needs—competence, autonomy, and relatedness. Furthermore, Daniel Pink says in the book drive, “Human beings have an innate inner drive to be autonomous, self-determined, and connected to one another. And when that drive is liberated, people achieve more and live richer lives.” In essence, we want to know our “autonomous, drive towards mastery & competence” keeps us connected [to the world] and our contributions will make a difference. This connection to the world can be referenced to our drive for purpose. Self-determined, most often means we have this sense of autonomy, and we want to grow (we are motivated by a drive towards mastery).

Beyond the research and teachings of Herzberg, Maslow, and Pink, when looking at autonomy, growth, purpose, etc., when we actually get to the nitty gritty science & biology of our brains—the truth is our brains thrive on goals. In fact, we are biologically wired to achieve meaningful goals. To not allow for goal-pursuing behaviors poses a huge barrier to us performing our best and being happier as well. When we create and strive for meaningful goals, our brains release dopamine. This release of dopamine drives us, gives us inspiration, as well as gives us a surge of energy. In other words, the pursuit of victory feels awesome for us. After victory or our goals are achieved, our brain precedes to release endorphins. Given these factors, just the establishment and pursuit of meaningful goals, as well as the actual achievement of goals has the power to chemically effect our brains and thus motivate our behaviors. The late Aristotle even stated that as human beings, we are teleological beings, meaning we are designed to set purposeful goals and grow.

Psychologist, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, often called the founder of “flow” also referred to the concept of human brains being teleological. He described the phrase as ‘autotelic experiences’—which come from the Greek words auto (self) and telos (goal or purpose). In an autotelic experience, behavior in it's own is self-fulfilling; in other words, the activity itself is its own reward. In essence there is no need for external motivation/ carrots & sticks behavior. Allowing our brains to follow the Teleological rhythm they naturally are designed to do, we allow ourselves the internal motivation of self-determination, autonomy, growth, and purpose. By creating meaningful stretch goals, we allow ourselves to reach what Csikszentmihalyi calls the “flow state”.

The fundamental purpose of the human being is to further our existence. To create offspring, to give to the world, to make society a better place; to create a better standard of living for our grandkids, and the generations after us. For the fundamental human nature is not to merely exist, but to have lived.

As we’ve seen, true motivation has three critical elements

1.  Autonomy—the desire to direct our own lives

2.  Mastery—the urge to get better and better at something that matters.

3.  Purpose—the desire to do something in the service of something larger than ourselves.

Now, this doesn’t mean we all have to go become the next Napoleon or Alexander The Great; rather, it’s to really stretch ourselves and make this thing worth living for us.

We can set goals in alignment to what we truly value; personal goals, family goals, community goals, financial goals, health goals, legacy goals, etc. Goals make us strive forward. They light a finder under our butts and make us stretch to our limits.

It’s not like we have a gun to our head either and we’re forced to accomplish them for survival. We move forward happily and fulfilled with goals— the right goals. People who think “it’s not all about achieving your goals” don’t understand proper goals, or haven’t set the right ones themselves.

True goals aligned with your deepest values and beliefs, provide you more fulfillment than anything else ever can. You must define your metrics and what your ideal outcome is. Our behavior is driven based upon some outcome, whether it’s making our significant other happy, or raising money for our favorite charity, or scoring a touchdown.

Daniel Pinks research confirms this. We are driven. Internal motivation is special, and brings the best out of us, and leads us to inspiration, fulfillment, and the flow state. In essence this leads to happier or more productive work places by focusing on autonomy, growth, purpose, and internal motivation. 

Matt Hommel

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