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Motivation And Satisfaction

Two dimensions of motivation and how they show up in people

“Hang In There” by AndyWestface

Living through a restructure is a fascinating time. Especially if you are into observing people and understanding what drives them.

One of the things that often happens in a restructure is the shuffling of folks. Some will end up in different roles. Some in new teams. A few will have more responsibilities. Others have to understand what their place is going forward.

This — of course — leads to a lot of emotions, ranging from excitement to frustration. It also gives an insight into the underlying motivation and satisfaction factors of individuals.

When we talk about motivation, two terms are well known and accepted: intrinsic and extrinsic:

Intrinsic motivation involves doing something because it’s personally rewarding to you. Extrinsic motivation involves doing something because you want to earn a reward or avoid punishment.

We are all capable of and use both kinds of motivation, dependent on the situation. For example, I do the dishes because I feel better having a clean kitchen. But I only clean the toilets when we have visitors coming.

Another dimension — which I was not able to articulate until recently — focuses on the recipient of our actions. The person, organisation, or system we are trying to influence. Defining the two extremes, we have our ego on the one end and the greater good on the other.

Being motivated by our ego is straightforward to explain. We do things to advance ourselves — be it financially, in regards to status or fame. As an example, someone works hard to get a fancy new title at the next round of promotions.

Moving to the opposite end— focusing on the greater good — we want to advance something else. That could be our immediate family, the company we work for, or the environment. For example, someone works hard to give their company the best possible chance of a good financial result.

Let me provide another example to put a bit more nuance. Imagine we are part of a restructure and we have to move into a ‘less senior’ role.

If we are motivated to advance the greater good, we will be happy to contribute in whatever way we can. Even if it means doing something that seems less important than before. We do not mind because we care about the company as a whole, not our title and status.

Or — if we are driven by our ego — we struggle. The title and role was an important aspect of our motivation. Doing something that feels like a demotion is a problem.

Motivation & Satisfaction Quadrants

Combining the two dimensions gives us a classic four-quadrant diagram:

To make things a bit more tangible, I will share an example for each cell. And to make it more comparable, we will be basing the examples on the following desired outcomes for each dimension:

  • Intrinsic — Feeling happy and satisfied
  • Extrinsic — Receiving more money
  • Ego — Pursuing a fancy new title
  • Greater Good — Helping the company achieve its goals

These are only examples. Not every extrinsic motivation focuses on money and not everyone who cares about the greater good is channeling it to help a company. But they allow us to see how these types of motivation show up in real life.

Starting in the bottom left corner, with the quadrant that most of us would label the worst combination. Here, folks are motivated by a reward to advance themselves. Using the drivers from above, we can picture a person that is keen to get a new title to be able to earn more money.

Top left is a person that is ego-centric, but intrinsically motivated. That would be someone who wants to receive a new title to feel good about themselves.

Moving to the bottom right, we have someone supporting a bigger cause, so they can benefit in the end. This person helps the company however they can, so they can earn more money. For example through a bonus or equity system.

Top right, the sweet spot. The combination we aspire for — intrinsically motivated towards the greater good. A person supports the company in lots of different ways, to see it prosper and thrive and therefore feel happy.

Reading through these examples — and I must admit they are written to create that bias — we assume that top right is good and bottom left is bad. But it is not that easy.

Of course, it is a good aspiration to be intrinsically motivated to help others. And when asked, most of us would claim that they are in the Zen quadrant a lot. But there are many examples and situations where this is untrue and unrealistic.

For example, we are after more money so we can afford a nice family home. Or we could be eyeing off a new title so we can apply for that dream job.

All four combinations have their place.

The key is to understand where you and others sit. Only then will you be able to pull the right motivation-levers and help yourself and your team stay engaged and happy.




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Tom Sommer

Tom Sommer

Writing about Leadership and Personal Development. Director of Engineering @ Redbubble.

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