Is There a Difference Between Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation?

Paul Hebert Driving Productivity, Engagement and Satisfaction, Paul Hebert, Performance, Total Rewards

Mailbox Dear Fistful of Talent:  “Is there a difference between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation?”

Yes Virginia, there is a difference.

First – motivation is an internal thing.  You cannot create motivation – you can create an environment where people are motivated to focus on the objectives you want.  This is not a minor point.  Many times clients will ask… “how do I motivate my employees?”  You can’t. But what you can do is put a program or initiative in place that offers something that will create a motivational desire within the audience.  This is why so many programs offer more than one option for awards/rewards.  The program is striving to put something in front of the target audience that will drive a change in behavior, because they want that “thing.”

Don’t assume that people aren’t motivated. Many times it is simply they are more motivated to do something different than what we want them to do.  In most cases, people have the desire to perform –  but it’s more a matter of direction.

Second – “extrinsic” motivation – or external motivation is a misnomer. There can only be internal motivation.  When we speak of external motivation, what we’re really talking about is influence – using such things as consensus, social proof, reciprocity, and other influence techniques to change a behavior.  These are as important (and in many cases more important) than the reward programs that drive internal desires.

The issue of motivation is a tough one.  There are many competing theories of why people do what they do, and there is a lot of confusion on what is motivation and what is really influence.  That is why they are called theories. A good discussion on the various theories can be found in Wikipedia here.  You’ll see, when read through the entry – there are a lot of different points of view.

And all of them have validity.  The key to motivation and influence is to take a bit from this and a bit from that.

Yet, a thousand years from now, Virginia, nay 10 times 10,000 years from now, we will continue to discuss what motivates people – whether that be internally – or externally, because people are unique and therefore are moved uniquely.

Paul Hebert

Paul Hebert is Vice President of Individual Performance Strategy at Creative Group Inc, writer, speaker and consultant. Paul focuses on influencing behaviors and driving business results through employees, channel partners and consumers. He is dedicated to creating true emotional connections often overlooked in our automated, tech-enabled world. Using proven motivational theory, behavioral economics and social psychology he has driven extraordinary company performance for his clients. Paul is widely considered an expert on motivation, incentives, and engagement.