What if we didn’t motivate staff?

Ed Deci, together with his collaborator and friend, Richard Ryan, have been researching and writing about what motivates people for more than 25 years. In their opinion, leaders and managers should not be worrying about how to motivate their employees.

Instead, they should be thinking

“How can I create the conditions within which other people will motivate themselves.”

These conditions create autonomous motivation, the holy grail of motivation. Individuals motivated in this way are more creative, better at problem solving, demonstrate better performance, experience more positive emotions at work and, as a consequence, are psychologically and physically well.

The alternative is controlled motivation which involves both carrot and stick. Interestingly, there are probably many managers who thought that if they used the carrot more than the stick then they were doing a great job.

WRONG, according to Deci and Ryan.

To create autonomy managers need to be mindful of 5 things:

  • The other person’s perspective – what is the individual’s internal frame of reference, what’s important to them, what are the beliefs and systems they are working to
  • Choice – allow individuals to get involved in decisions which impact them
  • Explore – let them try new ways to achieve
  • Self initiation – encourage and acknowledge their efforts to start things
  • Meaning – provide a meaningful rationale for what they are doing. In so doing they begin to understand it, internalise it and it may become part of their own values system

There is nothing here about motivating other people but this requires a huge degree of patience, listening and trust to make this happen.

When teachers create autonomous support students learn more, are confident and competent and enjoy their studies more.

When doctors create autonomous support their patients live healthier lives, eat better, exercise more and live longer.

When parents create autonomous support their children have stronger mental health, perform better in school and co-operate more around the house

When managers create autonomous support their employees perform better and are better adjusted in the workplace with better engagement and lower absenteeism.