Intrinsic Motivation at Work: Building Energy and Commitment

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9781576750872: Intrinsic Motivation at Work: Building Energy and Commitment
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Intrinsic Motivation at Work marks a major advance on the topic of work motivation -- one based on an understanding of the changing requirements of today's workplace and the limitations of older motivational models. Written in an engaging, accessible style, yet grounded in solid academic research, the book is divided into three parts. Part One assesses older models of work motivation and why they need an overhaul. Part Two explains the nature of the ""new work"" and the importance of reintroducing a feeling of purpose and self-management. Part Three presents in depth the four intrinsic rewards that make work energizing and compelling -- a sense of meaningfulness, a sense of choice, a sense of competence or quality, and a sense of progress -- and how to create them.

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About the Author:

Kenneth W. Thomas is Professor Emeritus of Business and Public Policy at the Naval Postgraduate School. He is the cocreator of the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument, which has sold more than 6 million copies.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

How Work Has Changed

I find that a lot of people hold old assumptions about work that no longer apply. So this first part of the book will help you understand how dramatically work has changed, the nature of today’s work, and what engagement looks like in today’s organizations.

It is hard to grasp how rapidly and dramatically the worker’s role has changed in this country. Consider that we even use different words to describe workers now. Few organizations still use the word subordinate to describe workers. Even the word employee has given way to associate in many Fortune 100 organizations. These word changes are a surface sign of the deeper shift in workers’ jobs.

In The New American Workplace, James O’Toole and Edward Lawler provide a detailed analysis of workplace changes over the last three decades.1 Look at their data in figure 1. In the twenty-five years between 1977 and 2002, there were huge surges in the number of workers who reported that their work was meaningful, allowed them discretion, and made use of their abilities. In roughly the span of a single generation, then, there has been a sea change in the nature of work.

What happened?

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Figure 1. Work Changes in the United States

How Work Used to Be: The Compliance Era

From the beginning of the twentieth century until the 1970s, it was reasonably accurate to think of workers’ roles in terms of compliance.2 Sound management meant simplifying work tasks, producing thick rule books, and building tall hierarchies with close supervision to make sure that workers complied with the rules. This was command-and-control management in bureaucratic organizations. It was supported by the economics of the times: in a stable environment with heavy demand, the rules produced standardized products and services that met customer needs, and the simplified work meant lower pay and training costs for workers. Blue-ribbon companies of the time, including General Motors, General Electric, and American Telephone and Telegraph, exemplified this philosophy. And generations of managers and workers had time to get used to this reality.

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The Last Three Decades

By the beginning of the twenty-first century, however, technology had changed the economic equation. Telecommunications created a truly global marketplace, with intense competition and the need for quicker responses. Customers demanded greater quality as well as customized products and services. Most organizations restructured to flatter, more agile designs that emphasized cross-functional teams and the free flow of information. Inside the organization, computers and automation reduced the number of low-skilled jobs and increased the need for worker judgment. Low-skilled jobs that could not be automated were often offshored to countries with lower wages. Computers provided workers access to the information that enabled decentralized decisions.

These conditions, as Warren Bennis had predicted years before, brought about the decline of bureaucracy.3 The tall hierarchies and close supervision prevented workers from responding quickly to customer needs. The same was true of the detailed rules. One by one, Fortune 500 organizations announced large layoffs of middle managers and first-level supervisors, and CEOs condensed rule books down to a few guiding principles.

In most organizations, then, it is no longer a question of middle managers’ allowing workers more choice and participation. Many levels of middle management and supervisory positions have been eliminated, and an organization needs its workers to take on many of their roles. Workers are often in different locations from their managers, making close supervision impractical. Instead of complying with detailed rules, workers are now asked to be proactive problem solvers. They must make adjustments, coordinate with other organizational players, innovate, and initiate changes. Workers are becoming strategic partners of top management, deciding the actions needed at the grassroots level to meet their organization’s goals.

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It is hard to draw precise boundaries around these changes. Some industries and job types come immediately to mind—”high tech” and “knowledge workers.” But the new work is not confined to particular industries and job classifications. O’Toole and Lawler found examples of the new work in virtually every industry. The main differentiator seems to be business strategy. Organizations that choose to compete primarily as low-cost providers often continue to offer low-skilled, low-paying jobs that give workers little chance to exercise choice. Still, because of global competition and technological change, these organizations are now in the minority. Fewer and fewer organizations can afford to use people only for compliance.

In most of today’s organizations, then, workers are required to be a greater source of problem-solving creativity and value-added than in previous years.4 Keeping them motivated, using them well, and retaining them have become important to competitive advantage, or even a requirement for survival.5 Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric, put it this way: “I think any company... has got to find a way to engage the mind of every single employee.... If you’re not thinking all the time about making every person more valuable, you don’t have a chance. What’s the alternative? Wasted minds? Uninvolved people? A labor force that’s angry or bored? That doesn’t make sense.”6

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Employee Engagement

In the last few years, organizations have adopted the phrase “employee engagement” to capture the kind of motivation required in today’s workplace. It is the logical successor to earlier terms in the evolution of work. We began “enriching” workers’ jobs in the 1970s.7 Then we “empowered” workers in the 1980s and 1990s. And now that the work is more demanding and there is looser supervision, we need to make sure that workers are psychologically “engaged” in performing that work.

Unfortunately, “employee engagement” has been used in quite different ways by different writers, often without a specific definition.8 A more specific and useful definition of engagement is the degree to which people actively self-manage in their work. (I’ll cover this definition and the nature of self-management in more detail in chapter 3.)

The chapters in this book will give you a solid framework to help you understand and build employee engagement. Our focus will be on understanding how engagement shows up in a person’s work, how you can recognize it, and how you can help to create it. The framework we use will build upon the key difference between old-school compliance jobs and most of today’s jobs— the degree to which they provide intrinsic rewards.

So at this point, I’d better explain what I mean by “intrinsic rewards.”
Intrinsic and Extrinsic Rewards

The downside of compliance-era work was that there was little in the work itself to keep workers motivated or satisfied. Consider the daily experience of a compliance-era job. Nearly everyone has had one—hopefully only for summer jobs or early in your career. Mine involved a white-collar job during summer breaks. There was some challenge in learning the detailed job rules at first, but that didn’t take long. Then I settled into a boring routine, and much of my work behavior went on automatic pilot. If I had a question, I had to ask the supervisor. My mind wandered. I found myself watching the clock before breaks and toward the end of the day. I looked forward to anything that broke the monotony and started to invent mental games. I put unnecessary creativity into things that might give me satisfaction, like improving the quality of my printing. The only excitement involved a standing card game during the lunch break. I had to drag myself to work each morning but went because I needed the money.

When organizations wanted only compliance from workers, then, they bought it with money and other tangible benefits. In the language of motivation theory, these are extrinsic rewards. Extrinsic rewards don’t come from the work itself; they are doled out by supervisors to ensure that work is done properly and that the rules are followed. They include compensation such as salaries, bonuses, commissions, perks, benefits, and cash awards.

Extrinsic rewards were an easy solution to motivation in the compliance era. They were possible. The tall hierarchies allowed managers to supervise workers closely so that they knew when rules were being followed and could give or withhold rewards accordingly. And the rewards were enough. Organizations only needed to buy rote behavior, not commitment and initiative. They didn’t need to appeal to workers’ passions or even enlist much of their intelligence. Finally, they were all management had to offer. With the simplified work and the constraining rules and procedures, few intrinsic rewards were possible.

As I mentioned, the new work requires a great deal of self-management by workers. Self-management, in turn, requires more initiative and commitment, which depend on deeper passions and satisfactions than extrinsic rewards can offer. Fortunately, the new work has the potential for much richer, intrinsic rewards. Intrinsic rewards come to workers directly from the work they do—satisfactions like pride of workmanship or the sense that they are really helping a customer.

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I will spell out the intrinsic rewards that are possible in today’s work in part 2 of this book. But to fully appreciate these intrinsic rewards, you need to understand two key aspects of the new work—purpose and self-management—for they are at the root of intrinsic motivation. We’ll cover those topics in the next two chapters, beginning with purpose.

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