In the previous article, I mentioned the importance of cultivating intrinsic motivation, a form of motivation integral to creativity, well-being, and sustained effort if you want to maintain long-term productivity. However, one might wonder how to do this. Fortunately, the creators of the self-determination theory, Edward Deci and Richard Ryan, have answered this question.
The principal result of their theory is that one’s well-being depends on three psychological needs: the need for autonomy, competence, and relatedness.
- Autonomy refers to the sensation of being in control of one’s actions and decisions; a psychological need to experience choice and volition in one’s activities.
- Competence is a psychological requirement to feel effective and capable of interacting with the environment. It involves a sense of mastery and the belief that one can reach their goals.
- Relatedness represents the psychological need to feel connected to others, to love and care, and to experience love and care in return. It involves a sense of belonging and attachment to other individuals or groups.
According to the Self-Determination Theory, fulfilling these three basic needs is crucial for fostering intrinsic motivation. Therefore, the real question is how to nurture these needs.
1. Foster Autonomy Through Task Flexibility And Decision-Making
It is widely known that many companies have internal agreements that allow people to work on their projects or contribute to open-source every Friday. This helps impart a sense of autonomy from work tasks. However, it is not always possible, so alternative solutions might be necessary.
What is important for autonomy? The ability to make decisions. Not necessarily the actual decision-making, but the feeling that one is making a decision. A subtle, but vital difference exists here. An effective leader should act in such a way that people believe they’re making decisions, even when it’s not the case.
2. Build Competence Through Skill Development and Regular Feedback
Among the numerous ways to foster competence, I would like to emphasise two: training and feedback. If one feels that they are acquiring new skills or improving existing ones, it drives a sense of competence. You might notice the phrasing here is ‘feeling of competence’ rather than just competence. For intrinsic motivation, it isn’t essential whether the real competence grows. Of course, it’s better when both processes align.
Another option is to provide regular feedback and recognise the accomplishments of an employee. This not only boosts motivation in itself but also strengthens the feeling of competence. Feedback could come via a 360-degree or peer-to-peer review from a manager, depending on the company’s process.
3. Encourage Relatedness with Team Building and an Inclusive Culture
A strong sense of community and good interpersonal relationships enhance intrinsic motivation by meeting the need for relatedness. Regular team outings, whether physical or virtual, can help to build relationships. Weekly stand-ups that include non-work related catch-up sessions can also nurture a sense of community. Creating an inclusive environment where everyone feels their voice is heard and valued is also fundamental.
4. Set Meaningful Goals That Align with Individual Interests
When employees see how their work contributes to the broader company goals and aligns with their interests, they are more likely to be intrinsically motivated. It may not always be obvious how one’s work directly affects the company’s OKRs (Objectives and Key Results). However, it is crucial to ensure that team members participate in setting these objectives for a personal stake in their accomplishment.
5. Encourage Mastery through Challenges and Varied Tasks
Giving the opportunity to take on new, progressively challenging tasks contributes to a sense of mastery. This can, in turn, boost intrinsic motivation through confidence in competence and autonomy. Therefore, it could be advantageous to encourage team members to expand their abilities by assigning them challenging yet achievable tasks. This could be facilitated through hackathons, innovation days, or even project rotations where team members can explore different aspects of a product.
By applying these five principles, which stem from the Self-Determination Theory, IT companies and startups can cultivate a workplace that enhances intrinsic motivation, ultimately leading to improved productivity, innovation, and employee satisfaction.