The 3 engagement levels

Before setting goals or managing with goals, it’s important to understand how motivation works. Several researchers have asked the question. In this article, I explain the three levels of motivation, as described by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, Edward L. Deci and Richard M. Ryan, and democratized by Dan Pink in his book Drive.

Level 1 : Survive

The first drive of every human being is linked to his direct survival. What motivates us to surpass ourselves and run even faster in front of the burning savannah or a predator? Our survival. This is the primary motivation, which makes us stop any other activity to drink, eat, sleep or meet our security needs. It takes precedence over everything else, because our primary goal is to stay alive. I will not dwell on this first level, which requires much less effort today than a few thousand years ago.

Level 2 : Carrot and stick

This is extrinsic motivation: I act to get the reward, the carrot or avoid the punishment, the stick. I act for a goal external to the activity, a profit without any connection with the activity. This is what we used a little wrong in education: depriving a child of dessert or television if she has a bad grade, hits her sister or breaks a vase. On the contrary, double ration of dessert or sweets for a good grade at school. It may sound childish, but it’s still very much used in companies: bonus based on the number / volume of sales, competitions between branches / employees on the speed of execution or response time.
In recent years, we have realized that carrots and sticks have limited effects, especially in the long term. In education, punishment is replaced by consequence or reparation, which is intended to be logical and linked to the bad behavior (and requires creativity for parents). Several companies choose to eliminate management by objectives, and replace the results’ objectives by development objectives.  What Deci and Ryan have proved, which is illustrated in Dan Pink’s TED Talk, is that extrinsic motivation works only on repetitive and unproductive tasks. It improves the performance of the industrial operator who must perform a simple action, that could be automated. On the contrary, they degrade the performance of tasks requiring creativity, such as problem solving.

Level 3 : Competency, autonomy and purpose

How to characterize intrinsic motivation? The one that gives us satisfaction in the realization, which makes the activity autotelic, literally for the purpose of itself. These are activities that we realize for the activity itself, which puts us in the state of flow, a term so fashionable nowadays! Activities become autotelic when they are based on three aspects: competence, autonomy, and relatedness. I will come back in a future article on the different characteristics of these three aspects. The big difference with intrinsic motivation is that it is unique to each individual. Depending on his personality, his environment, each person will have different intrinsic motivators. For the manager, that complicates the deal. He can not apply a single motivation program. Each individual has to be motivated personally, according to his own drives.

So what type of motivation do you use?

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