Friday, 16 December 2011

Motivation - Intrinsic vs Extrinsic Factors

What motivates you?

I know for me, it is personal satisfaction from a job well done. For others it will be recognition. For some it will be challenge. For a few it will be status. For a very few, it will be money.

Richard Daft, in his book "The Leadership Experience" defines motivation as the "forces, either internal or external to a person, which arouse enthusiasm and persistence to pursue a certain course of action” (2005, p. 294). So what does that mean to a each of us?

At its most simple, motivation starts with a need that creates within us a desire to fulfil it; like friendship, food or recognition. So then we have to take action. We behave in a way results in us fulfilling our needs. So we get the rewards that we were after; and we have satisfied our needs.

However, our rewards can be either intrinsic or extrinsic. Intrinsic needs are those things that come from within; personal development, challenge, self-fulfilment, that warm fuzzy feeling of being appreciated, self-determination. Extrinsic needs come from without; recognition, status, promotions and bonuses. Recognition is an interesting factor. It impacts on both extrinsic and intrinsic motivation.

Charles Handy, in his book "Understanding Organizations" (1993), thinks that we that motivation theories can be categorised under one of three headings. Firstly there are satisfaction theories, which assume that a ‘satisfied worker is a productive worker’. Secondly there are incentive theories, which assume reinforcement is the key (this is a ‘carrot’ approach - that reward will lead to good performance - extrinsic motivation). Thirdly there are intrinsic theories, which assume individuals will work harder if they have a worthwhile job – that reward will come from satisfaction in the work itself.

However, Harold Levinson, in his manager’s views of motivation theory (1972) thought that we had a much more complicated approach to motivation. He proposed that we have four main groups, and one that is a combination of any or all of the four. They are:
  1. Rational-economic assumption – we are motivated by economic needs, passive & can be controlled by the organisation. This manager believes in extrinsic motivators (money, status)
  2. Social assumption – we are motivated by social needs, affiliation (teams; social activities)
  3. Self-actualising assumption – motivated by intrinsic needs – autonomy / goal setting rather than managerial control (goals; empowerment)
  4. Psychological assumption – work is part of our identity, our ‘ego ideal’. We need opportunities to fulfil our ‘ego ideal’
  5. Complex assumption – motivated by a combination of dynamic & ever-changing factors
There are lots of theories about how we tap into intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, but one common idea is that if someone is intrinsically motivated, that motivation lasts MUCH longer than if we try to motivate the same person extrinsically (with external rewards).

"That sounds all very good in theory," I can almost hear you say "but I bet people aren't really like that in the real world".

However, a recent Employee Insights survey of Kiwi workers shows that 33% of respondents say that "acknowledgement and appreciation" is what motivates them, 32% are motivated by role challenge, 23% by workmates and/or company culture, with 12% rating the dollars as a motivator.

Consultants Robert Walters NZ ran this survey for the second time this year, surveying accounting, finance, banking, management, HR, IT, procurement, supply chain, sales, marketing, secretarial and business support employees.

This means that if you are wanting to reward your staff, you need to tell them you appreciate them; that they provide value. You need to challenge them in a way that they can acheive. You need to have a healthy organisational culture and build a good team atmosphere.

It's not definitely not rocket science, is it :-)


  • Read NZIM's brief at, and the Robert Walters' survey report at
  • Daft, Richard L. (2005). The Leadership Experience (3rd Edition). USA: Thomson South-Western.
  • Handy, Charles (1993). Understanding Organizations. UK: Penguin
  • Levinson, Harold (1972) based on Schein, Edgar (1970). Organizational psychology. USA: Prentice Hall


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