My wife and I brought our kids to see Santa recently. He asked the boys what school subjects they liked most. After my boys responded, he smiled and looked at me, and made a curious comment. “You know”, he said, “Last year, during the lockdown most kids said their favourite subjects were art, science or sports. This year, however, they prefer Maths, Geography and other more technical subjects.” He continued, “It appears that when parents were homeschooling, they put more emphasis on arts because they lacked the teaching skills in technical subjects. As a result of the emphasis on these subjects, the kids have naturally shown more interest in these areas.” I share this story because it demonstrates the influence of extrinsic motivation on behaviour. This is a very important factor in nurturing a culture of Innovation and as result has a significant bearing on the outcome of transformation efforts.
Intrinsic or Extrinsic Innovation Motivation?
Extrinsic motivation is that which comes from outside the task. In our example above, children may have leaned towards certain subjects because they saw that it pleased their parents. Intrinsic motivation, on the other hand, is when the subjects stimulated the kids to stay with the task because the task by itself is inherently fun and enjoyable. The child does not need any external motivation or encouragement.
In my work with organisations, I see a similar dynamic unfold. The data tell us upwards of 70% of transformation efforts fail. Many of these efforts fail because they lack sustained attention by leadership, they also lack a mix of both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. When a leader decides to “pay attention” to small changes in behaviour across her organization, it provides extrinsic motivation for employees to pursue new avenues. While a very small population of your workforce may be intrinsically motivated to evolve, the majority are not. We become used to the way things are, change is difficult for us, so we get used to the status quo. What to do in such instances?
To create new insights and new behaviours, we need to introduce new knowledge, new inputs, new thinking, which enables us to create new connections. To make those connections, we need both time and permission to do so. The most important thing a leader can do is to create the right environment for ideas to emerge, but then crucially they must also show sustained interest in transformation efforts. In doing so they show that they actually care. (I call this “the curtain twitcher effect“.)
One of the most frustrating things that can happen in transformation efforts is when a group of intrinsically motivated people (or just one) in your organisation show initiative, run an event or bring in an outside speaker to stimulate new thinking and then their leader doesn’t even show up. Ok, they were busy, you might think, but did they subsequently show any interest at all? Did they even ask how it went? When you try and tell them, well, they barely pay attention.
Sadly, in the majority of cases, the answer is no. Usually, in these cases, the intrinsically motivated staff leave or worse still, they stay become demoralized, become sceptical of any future change efforts and do the bare minimum using the least possibly discretionary effort and staying below the radar.
One last point, I know that leaders are time-strapped, but a major part of transformation efforts includes leaders making time to provide the extrinsic motivation necessary to kindle the intrinsic motivation that may have extinguished inside your people.
THANKS FOR READING
A leader who has consistently demonstrated both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation for change and innovation is Jeff Bezos. On this week’s Innovation Show with Robin Gaster, we explore the origins of the Amazon machine. We explore a wide range of topics from Robin’s book, “Behemoth, Amazon Rising Power and Seduction in the Age of Amazon”.
Have a listen: