Extrinsic and intrinsic rewards

Anybody that has read any recent articles on management, HR, strategy and leadership will know that you cannot use extrinsic rewards to motivate people extrinsically. Yet, in my daily experience of working between ordinary employees and management, in firms and in public institutions, it seems that this logic rules supreme.

The most acute form I find in South African universities, where journal articles are counted by everyone but the good lecturers and researchers. The good researchers and thinkers in our universities don’t need the recognition (nor the little research grant they are paid in South Africa). Our best lecturers and researchers are driven by an intrinsic motivation. They love teaching, they enjoy their work. They love the technology they get to work with. If they were driven by extrinsic rewards they would have been working in the private sector, or running their own company.

I find the same crazy logic in economic development. Except the extrinsic rewards is not so aimed at the individual, but a team or a programme. Perhaps it is not even a reward, it is a unspoken threat. However, our best practitioners out in the field don’t need specific measures (treated as targets), they know what resources they have, and what is not working as it should. Perhaps they don’t know exactly how to fix the complicated nest of interrelated problems, but they are intrinsically motivated to find solutions. To try and try again. Of course the extrinsic reward of a good income matters, but it is not the highest priority. I often think the targets and indicators set for development is a better indication of a lack of trust by donors in their employees (and their counterparts) than it is about making sure activities are leading in the right direction.

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Shawn Cunningham

I am passionate about how organisations and institutions change in developing and transitioning countries. I essentially work between organisations, communities, industries and experts.

0 thoughts on “Extrinsic and intrinsic rewards”

  1. Well said! However, when the institution/body referred to has many departments, the ethical integrity of one department (or lack thereof) impacts on other departments/units. And then everyone is treated with the same comb. A balancing act if anything, but more difficult when much money and possible implosive corruption is order of the day.

    Larry Dolley Manager: Agrifood Technology Station dolleyl@cput.ac.za 021 9596276 0822006895 http://www.cput.ac.za/ats (take a virtual tour via our website)

  2. Hi Shawn,

    your post refers to the so carrot-and-stick-metaphor which is a holdover from Industrial Age and not appropriate for our time.

    Richard Daft and Dorothy Marcic highlight in their book “Understanding Management” the following critical points:
    1. Extrinsic rewards diminish intrinsic motivation
    2. Extrinsic rewards are temporary
    3. Extrinsic rewards assume that people are driven by lower level needs.

    When I think about my own motivation working in development it is most about getting to know different people and realities all over the globe. At the same time it is many times – unfortunately not always – the feeling to contribute to make our world a better place.

    The financial return is also relevant, but secondary. Working other industries would be possible more lucrative. Its less about rewards than about a fair compensation.

    Kind regards,

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