The British Broadcast Company (BBC) recently published The Things that Do and Don't Motivate Kids to Succeed. It is focused upon two potentials: "natural curiosity and the desire for a reward." Certainly, there are those among us that are interested in various topics and we learn for the sake of learning. I know people who read college textbooks for entertainment. But, others do not exhibit that tendency.
The author contends that "children are naturally interested in exploring their environment." That is, in an innate sense, we are born with curiosity, and a drive to "know how everything works, feels, and tastes." The contention is that this natural curiosity is conditioned out of us by systems and institutions that teach us to expect, or at least that we might anticipate, some reward for our behavior (or avoidance of punishment).
The "learning for the sake of learning" is referred to as "intrinsic motivation." And the benefits of this motivation are illustrated in a "soon-to-be published meta-analysis." Students across a spectrum of levels, in a large population (200,000) were tasked with completing questionnaires in hopes of determining the "measure (of) different types of motivation." Their grades and achievement were then monitored. The result, which is not shocking, is that "students who took more pleasure in particular subjects experienced higher achievement, increased persistence, and increased creativity." In short, it appears we naturally tend to do better on tasks or challenges that we like.
Another study cited by the BBC concluded that when we are interested in that way, we have "higher levels of reading comprehension" than those who have other motivations (extrinsic).
Despite this, the article concludes that "a reward culture creeps into the classroom early on." There are various forms we have all seen from smiley faces and "good job" notations to stickers, privileges, coupons, candy, and more. The BBC report claims that among teachers in one survey almost "80% also used tangible rewards on a weekly basis." Some defend these as appropriate processes to maintain focus and attention on the subject matter.
Some teachers, though, avoid the "reward culture" and strive to build the "intrinsic motivation." They advocate for processes that match the student to the task such that their self-motivation flourishes. One example is in reading, allowing "comic books or magazines over novels" so as to facilitate the student's perception of control of, or at least influence upon, the learning process. By thus "broadening the conceptualization of what it means to be a reader," these teachers engage the natural implications of "intrinsic motivation."
This is geared primarily toward conveying to the student that each has "choices and are doing things of their own free will." This leads to the engagement of the intellect and the motivation of individual through their own preferences and participation. Reading this, I was reminded of the words of a mentor in college. He championed engaging and involving groups in decision making. His mantra was that "members will support what they help to create." The results championed by the "intrinsic motivation" teachers cited by the BBC seem similarly focused upon the engagement and collaboration process.
The "intrinsic motivation" teachers explain that this process means "listening to children and even acknowledging negative feelings" that arise in the daily work. They contend that listening to negative perceptions, and then explaining "why it is valuable even if it's not particularly fun" engages the process of analysis and thus learning itself. Through this, the "intrinsic motivation" approach leads to acceptance of the importance of tasks or processes, even when they are not particularly enjoyed or enjoyable.
There are those who want to extend the avoidance of "rewards" to the process of grading itself. They see grades, "the most obvious extrinsic motivator," as a distraction from the learning process. They are promoting the abolition of grading. They site studies from the 1980s in support of a process that provides feedback only, no grades. It is fair to say that this perspective, despite the cited research, is not universally accepted. There are others that see benefits from the grading of performance. And, we have many generations that have seemingly flourished under that paradigm.
Except to those with an intrinsic interest in teaching, the point of all of this is perhaps less than clear. But, ultimately, is the workplace that different from a school environment? Would employees thrive more readily if they are engaged? Managers should find ways to educate others in the importance of the day's tasks. Those who will perform the work need to understand what it accomplishes and why that is important to the customer who receives it. Then, those contributors (an important distinction) can engage from a sense of purpose. And, if the person can be matched to tasks that they find some "intrinsic" draw towards, similar to the students reading comic books," then it is probable that more will be accomplished.
It seems that the same could be said of elements of the workplace also. For example the safety culture that is so critical. It is the safety program, the observance of rules and regulations, that has been so successful in recent decades. The rate of injury and death has improved dramatically. The effort to have workers focus upon safety might be improved by similar focus upon the safety culture. Knowing of its importance and participating in its planning and implementation might lead to even better results.
It is likely that we will all need reinforcement over time, even when "intrinsically motivated." We all need to be periodically reminded of the value, the importance, of what we do. For the Office of Judges of Compensation Claims, what we do is essentially due process. We provide an environment in which people can define and refine their disagreements and disputes. When those do not bring resolution, we provide the facilitation and edification that is mediation; often this leads to solutions that are created collaboratively by the participants. And, when there is no ultimate agreement, our role is to be impartial, receptive, engaged, and decisive. To be "intrinsically motivated," we must find value in the due process and the procedure that we provide.
How does the maxim fit in your business? First determine what value you seek to deliver. What attributes are worthy of your attention. How do they deliver value to those whom you serve? With that in mind, communicate that value to the (perhaps many) hands that will contribute to delivering that value. Explain and remind of the importance, of the value. If we are to be successful, it seems, our chances are enhanced when the team is collaborative, motivated, and engaged.
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