Shared goals, or carrots and sticks?

This blog continues the examination motivation. Social psychological theories on how motivation determines behaviour. Self-determination theory presents the case for suboptimal impact of motives born from persuasion.

Materials cited are sourced from: Ryan, RM., Deci, EI.  2000 “Self-determination theory and the facilitation of intrinsic motivation, social development and wellbeing” American Psychology January 2000, pp68-78

I have lost count of the number of times people have admitted to me that the latest pay rise, bonus, or dream role quickly loses its shine. That salary increase suddenly spent before it arrives just the same. The same issues with the same clients, or bosses, or staff. Many of those conversations returned to mind as I studied at some length the psychological theory on motivation I now summarise in this blog.

From a project management perspective, I think this concepts should grab everyone’s attention. It reinforces something I think we probably all intrinsically know. That carrot and stick management may get us to a point, but it is not going to get us all safely home. Could it even be an obstacle to success? This is another perspective on behaviour, and considerations to address when contemplating how we structure our control.

v | b | t

I will offer a conclusion upfront. When we choose to divide ourselves into them and us by our contracts we are reinforcing the externalised motivations reflected below. When we manage our staff with KPIs, outmoded controls, and seek to retain high performing teams simply with cash, we are reflecting the changed mindset, externalised motivations, performance and health implications that come with that lack of internalised autonomy, shared interest, and shared goal. The more we understand these implications the more visibility there can be. The more we can rethink how we collectively engender coherent behaviours. The more trust between parties we can hope to see.

Self-Determination Theory

In this article Richard Ryan and Edward Deci review their body of research into the impacts of external reward vs our individual intrinsic motivations.  At the heart of this research is a reflection upon the social context in which human potential can be fostered or undermined by the manner of motivations we attempt to introduce to those we may wish to direct.  Three factors are considered (Ryan and Deci 2000, pp68):

  • Competence
  • Autonomy
  • Relatedness

Each is considered in respect to the developmental tendencies of an individual, but also the wider environmental factors that can antagonise or nurture any of these three (ibid pp68).

What is contrasted is the direction of motivational engagement.  Ryan and Deci outline their case in terms of factors that move us to act, be that the intrinsic (internal) motivational factors which are self-generated and arising from innate value and interest in an activity.  Or they can be external coercions of persuasion.  As Ryan et al advise, “the urge to act either an abiding interest or by a bribe” (ibid pp69).  Depending on this source motive, they argue the resulting experience of the actor, and the consequent actions derived, can be highly varied as a result.  Those authentic (self-motivated) having more interest, emotional attachment, and confidence in action and therein enhanced performance; and meaning two equally competent people will present different outcomes based only on this origin of motivational force (ibid pp69).  These differences are categorised in this theory. Argued to be a continuum of developmental, situational, and progressive characteristics.  They conclude that for both the health of the people we oversee, and the performance we hope to tend,

motivation is perhaps the critical variable in producing maintained change

Ryan and Deci, 2000. pp76

Intrinsic motivation is that natural inclination we may have toward “assimilation, mastery, spontaneous interest, and exploration“ (ibid pp70).  It requires supportive conditions and can be easily subdued.  Ryan and Deci have a sub theory called Cognitive Evaluation Theory (CET) which “focuses upon fundamental needs for competence and autonomy” pp70. To which they conclude even the necessary competence will only support an intrinsic motivation to act when there is retained autonomy in doing so.  Arguing such lost autonomy will transfer motives from an intrinsic to an external source.  The key claim herein, being that “extrinsic reward can undermine intrinsic motivation” (ibid pp70, citing Deci 1970).  Or as separately quote “in attributional terms by an internal perceived locus of causality (deCharms, 1968)” (ibid pp70).

The implication of this is that carrot and stick motivations can become inherently counterproductive to long-term outputs, and to mental health.  “…threats, deadlines, directives, pressured evaluations, and imposed goals diminish intrinsic motivation because, like tangible reward, they conduce toward an external perceived locus of causality.  In contrast, choice, acknowledgement of feelings, and opportunities for self-direction were found to enhance intrinsic motivation because they allow people a greater feeling of autonomy” (ibid, pp70 citing Deci & Ryan 1985; citing further studies by Amabile 1996; Grolnick &Ryan 1987; Uttman 1997).

The third element identified is relatedness and a connected sense of security.  The examples offered being reflective of infant tendency toward exploration as proximal to parents.  However, they further argue this relatedness remains into progressive adulthood, “proximal relational supports may not be necessary for intrinsic motivation, but secure relational base does seem to be important for the expression of intrinsic motivation to be in evidence” (ibid pp71).

Self-Regulation of Extrinsic Motivation – if motivational origin is arising from outside influence, the Self-Determinism Theory (SDT) presents differing degrees of such requested behaviour, associated regulated means, and the manner of receipt of such attempted influence.  They call this second subtheory “Organismic Integration Theory (OIT)” (ibid pp72, citing Deci and Ryan 1985).  Ryan and Deci present this as the categorised continuum, with diagrammatic aid.  I present below an adaptation to connect the textual explanations they offer too.

Adapted from Ryan & Deci 2000, figure 1 and notes, pp72-74

I have highlighted the two extremes of extrinsic motivations and pose a question of what our motivational sources become in our contracts of construction, service, or employment, when driven too far towards price, KPIs, and performance bonus.  The concluding remarks of Ryan and Deci’s paper highlight cultural differences must be considered, and further that a linear progression from left to right should not be assumed as we individually mature in our many life roles.  They do however flag the related implications to mental health when perpetually existing in the left-hand more side of determinism.

employees experiences of satisfaction of the needs for autonomy, competence, and relatedness in the workplace predicted their performance and well being at work

(ibid pp75)

To which they present further evidence from studies where an individual could be examined across various life roles, they cite Sheldon et al 1997, who they advise “demonstrated that satisfaction in each of several life roles (e.g., student, employee, friend) relative to the individual’s own satisfaction, was attributable to the degree to which that role supports authenticity and autonomous functioning” (ibid pp76).

Here are two final quotes from their concluding remarks (pp76)

Excessive control, nonoptimal challenges, and lack of connectedness, on the other hand disrupt the inherent actualising and organisational tendencies endowed by nature, and thus such factors result not only in the lack of initiative and responsibility but also in distress and psychopathology

Contexts supportive of autonomy, competence, and relatedness were found to foster greater internalisation and integration than contexts that thwart satisfaction of these needs.  This latter finding, we argue, is of great significance for individuals who wish to motivate others in a way that engenders commitment, effort, and high-quality performance

Ryan and Deci, 2000. pp76

Concluding remarks

One aspect of behaviour that I identified within my 2020 MSc dissertation was the reorientation of project interests dependent upon the party with most influence at time of procurement. In PFI, I argued this was not always the senior debt lender. Risk profile of projects changed as a result. If contemporary revisits of Self-Determinism Theory can be considered from the perspective of actor motivations as entities not just individuals, perhaps these categorisations can offer some means to inform subsets of what those motivational orientations may be.

About Me

In psychology we are required to look beneath the mask. This blog series is attempting to unmask some hidden parts of projects to engender a more collaborative way.

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