- By Ian Bradley
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As a professor who teaches an undergraduate course in Cognitive Behaviour Therapy or CBT, I have many students who outright dismiss many of the “B” or behavioural aspects of CBT. Nowhere is this more event than when I talk about positive reinforcement and its role in performance management. To these students, anything associated with an external reward seems to be tarnished with the brush of coercion. Flagrant Wall Street bonuses only add to the distaste for external rewards.
The students are primed by motivational theory, in particular, the Self-Determination Theory of Deci and Ryan who have emphasized the importance of intrinsic motivation. The latter is defined as performing a work activity for the inherent pleasure of displaying self-determined competence.
Why is this important to managers?
Several studies have found there to be a positive relationship between intrinsic motivation and job performance as well as between intrinsic motivation and job satisfaction (Linz, 2003). Research has also shown, albeit in selected cases, that the application of external rewards can negatively affect performance of an inherently motivating task. As we all knew: “ humans are not like rats, workers won’t always be motivated by the human equivalent of cheese.
However, I would argue that many of my research colleagues in psychology have limited experience with the world of work, and too much familiarity with analogue studies on easily available undergraduates. From my consulting perspective, many of the tasks that my clients are required to perform offer little in the way of inherent pleasure, think of budgets, downsizing etc. More importantly, even in today’s economy, financial bonuses and perks are a common and vital component of any organization’s motivational toolkit.
Having said that, I would also agree that these external rewards need to be launched and managed considering important aspects of self-determination theory. I tried to illustrate this blending in a recent consultation with an industrial client who wanted people on the shop-level floor to be more attentive to waste and inefficiency. The owner wanted to reward his employees’ suggestions with tangible as well as recognition rewards.
In my next post, I will provide some ERR guidelines that attempted to blend individual determination and external rewards.