Coaching Redefined: How Internal Motivation Can Fuel Performance  

2 February 2017:

Behind every unmotivated employee is a leadership problem waiting to be solved. Yet many leaders see motivation as a game of rewards and punishment. Forget the cash. Forget the threats. To engage today’s workforce, a leader is well advised to seek the heart of what moves people: their three basic psychological needs.

What are some implications of the cutting-edge researches for helping employees engage their work and drive bottom-line results?

External Motivation


SDT has isolated six different forms of motivation, which for simplicity may be grouped under two headings: external and internal. Both kinds of motivation are driven by needs.

For most adults, work meets many needs—income, of course, as well as friendship and achievement. Too often, though, employees feel bored or alienated at work. The result can be illness, absenteeism, and turnover, with huge cost to the organisation.

Observing these problems, many leaders assume that employees, having secured food and shelter, become passive. So these leaders try to control employees with threats of punishment or with external rewards, including bonuses, wage incentives, or promotions.

While it’s safe to say that many leaders will continue using these methods to motivate employees, literally scores of peer-reviewed studies since the 1970s have confirmed the negative impact of external rewards. Among the startling findings:

1. Rewards consistently undermine sustained, longterm motivation and performance

2. Rewards for something employees already like to do especially undermine motivation and performance.

3. Rewards make it more difficult for employees to be creative and solve complex problems.

What About Sales Incentives?

Variable compensation—commissions, bonuses, incentives, and so on—is a given in sales organisations. Self-Determination Theory recognises the reality of external motivators in a sales environment, and advises that to support internal motivation in salespeople, how the leader uses these incentives makes all the difference.

Salespeople can suffer serious psychological harm if sales leaders overemphasise incentives to pressure or “motivate” people to reach sales goals. In these cases, salespeople experience stress and burnout, focus less on customers and more on money, and can resort to unethical actions to gain the rewards.

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