This simple, clear model shows how different motivators drive different kinds of performance — and helps managers, leaders, parents, educators — anyone concerned with motivating others — consider how to use their emotional intelligence to fuel lasting motivation. This model is presented in the “Motivation from the Inside Out” module in the Developing Human Performance curriculum (a series of 14 programs on leadership available for all development professionals).

Motivation Iceberg

One of the central challenges of managing and leading is to inspire and engage — to motivate — people to optimal performance.

carrotPeople are paid to do their work, and eventually should lose their jobs if they don’t meet expectations.  But in most roles, in most organizations, star performance requires a higher level of engagement — a commitment that goes beyond the paycheck.  That extra commitment is called “discretionary effort” because it’s at the employee’s discretion.  He gives that extra because he wants to — because he feels like it. True leaders are able to inspire that feeling.  As FedEx founder Fred Smith said, “Leadership is getting people to work for you when they are not obligated.”

As we consider “motivating employees” we can divide the work we want to achieve in two basic categories of outcomes.  One category is for those basic, task-oriented, behavioral pieces of work.  Showing up on time.  Filing required reports.  Making the required number of calls.  They tend to be prescribed, tactical, and easily measurable.

Rather than clear tasks, the other category is about the way employees work.  We want them to care for customers.  To innovate new solution.  To give their all.  To trust and be trustworthy. So it’s not just a “behavior” we need… how do we get this kind of deep commitment?


What Actually Drives Behavior?

icebergAn iceberg is a useful metaphor for these two categories.  At the tip of the iceberg are those visible, tangible activities.  Beneath the surface are the invisible, emotional drivers which shape attitude.  These emotional drivers make the difference in how activities are done and thereby define the impact employees have on customers and colleagues. Above the surface is what’s visible.  Below is what’s invisible.  Above is BEHAVIOR, below is what DRIVES behavior.

In addition to different categories of outcomes, there are different kinds of motivators; different “levers” that managers can use to engage performance.  There are two basic categories for these levers: “extrinsic” and “intrinsic”:

Extrinsic motivators Intrinsic motivators
Live outside the employee (e.g., bonuses, perks, fines, employee of the month). Live inside the employee (e.g., passion, alignment with values, belonging, purpose).
Delivered by the manager or the organization. Driven by relationships and organizational climate.
Easy to quantify, concrete. Intangible, abstract.
Require ongoing expense (e.g., more bonus funds). Self-maintaining and spread from employee to employee.
Reinforce power structure (manager decides). Reinforce interdependence (shared responsibility).

While we can categorize two kinds of motivators, it’s more accurate to consider a spectrum.  For example, while salary is extrinsic, many employees are using their salary to support their families, which can be intrinsic.

Not surprisingly, different kinds of motivators drive different kinds of performance.  But one of the most dangerous and common pitfalls in organizations is the use of one type of motivator for all employees and all goals.

Take a typical incentive program where salespeople get a bonus for meeting a quota. The salesperson is rewarded for making the sale irrespective of how it’s done.  Many salespeople like it and it’s easy for sales managers. However, the operations people are rarely thrilled with the way salespeople over-promise to customers.  Or, what happens when the business changes and salespeople need to collaborate?


Different Motivators for Different Results

We’re starting to see some of the complexities of motivation, and how different factors motivate people in different situations.  One of the keys to this puzzle is to match different types of motivators will drive different types of needs.

motivation icebergIn this graphic, you can see  that on the left there two categories of motivators and on the right are two categories of outcomes.

The extrinsic (“above the surface”) motivators drive “above the surface” outcomes.

The intrinsic (“below the waterline”) motivators that drive “below the surface” outcomes.

What’s critical to remember is that extrinsic levers (top left) do not effectively motivate the deeper outcomes (bottom right).  In fact, emphasizing these extrinsic influences can undermine this kind of commitment.

This is not to say the extrinsic motivators are irrelevant, but rather to say we need to use the correct motivator for the desired outcome.

The big challenge is that because it is incredibly easy to offer an extrinsic carrot or stick, that method is the default. Extrinsic factors are measurable, concrete, and reinforce the power structure in the organization – which makes these quite attractive to organizational systems.  Quite satisfying except for one key obstacle:  when it comes to engaging hearts and minds, they don’t work.


Three Tips for Engaging Intrinsic Motivation

While it’s more work to develop intrinsic motivators, if you want to engage those “beneath the waterline” outcomes, this work is not optional.  Here are three tips:

1. Develop powerful values.
Most organizations have a list, but are they real or PR?  Recently I was with a group of director-level managers in a huge multinational and when I asked about the corporate values they all groaned and mocked the mission statement:  They perceived that the values were just window dressing and the real driver was profit.  While they liked making money that had no real loyalty to the organization.

Yet in the same organization, when I talk to senior VPs they have a sense that the organization stands for something significant and is based on over 100 years of adherence to important, enduring values. Somehow the talk about “driving results” has completely eclipsed those values.  The result is a whole level of critically important leaders who are fundamentally disconnected from the organization.

Does this gap exist in your company?  Does your organization have values that have real meaning to your people?  Are you talking about them, living them, noticing them in others, and taking corrective action when people violate them?


kid circle2. Connect with people.
One of the, or perhaps The, fundamental intrinsic motivator is belonging.  Humans are pack animals, and as such we are wired to connect.  Yet most senior leaders have a schedule double and triple booked out months ahead with nearly no opportunity to interact on a human level.

When was the last time you were “just hanging out” at lunch team members two or three levels below you?  When was the last truly honest conversation you had with a colleague where you genuinely listened to her story?  How much time are you spending connecting with people outside your team and business unit versus inside?  This is not rocket science, but it is just as powerful.


3. Constantly articulate purpose.
Why does your organization exist?  It makes money in order to exist, but what does it exist for?  If you don’t have a compelling, powerful answer to that question you will not build enduring intrinsic motivation, and the best people will not stay with you – so get a great consultant coach and develop an answer.

car mapIf you do have that answer, an answer that is worth fighting for, then tell that story over and over.  Everything you do should serve that purpose, and if it doesn’t, change what you do.  Every change you make, every message you roll out, should be linked to that purpose.  Junior employees will rarely say it out loud, but just know they’re constantly asking, “Why should I give you my all?” Make sure you’ve got a worthwhile answer, and then make sure they hear it.

While this work is challenging, it has long-lasting benefits.  When you get these core drivers in place they become part of the organizational culture.  Intrinsic motivation lasts.  But who has time?

Discussing this type of work with leaders, many of my clients’ first reaction is:  “This sounds right, but I just don’t have time.”  If you’re like most managers, you have too much to do just getting the basic tasks done.  It’s like you’re on a treadmill chasing to catch up.  So here’s a hard truth:  Unless you do the leadership work of building intrinsic motivation, your treadmill is just going to go faster and faster.

There is no “right time” to stop chasing and start leading.  No one is going to gift you with blocks of uninterrupted time to shift your attention to the “heart of the iceberg.”  Yet that’s where the real opportunity lives.

The “Motivation Iceberg” model is explored in “Motivation from the Inside Out,” a workshop in Six Seconds’ Developing Human Performance curriculum.  DHP provides 14 essential building blocks for organizational performance in practical, engaging 2-hour workshops that can be used by almost any competent development professional.

For further reading on this topic, author Alfie Kohn has written extensively about the problems with extrinsic motivation, particularly in schools (e.g., Punished by Rewards) and parenting (e.g., Unconditional Parenting). Challenging Behaviorist Dogma: Myths About Money and Motivation is one of his articles for business, from Compensation and Benefits Review.

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Joshua Freedman

Joshua is one of the world’s preeminent experts on developing emotional intelligence to create positive change. With warmth and authenticity, he translates leading-edge science into practical, applicable terms that improve the quality of relationships to unlock enduring success. Joshua leads the world’s largest network of emotional intelligence practitioners and researchers.
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