Leading like a Teacher IV: Motivation

July 26, 2018

Motivation refers to the personal investment that an individual has in reaching a desired state or outcome (Maher & Meyer, 1997). Motivation is an essential driver of performance and learning - and the best teachers are great motivators.

There are two important concepts that are central to understanding motivation: (1) the value of a goal and (2) the expectancies, or expectations of successful attainment of that goal (Amrose & el). If we don't care much about the goal or we do not believe we can achieve it, we won't be very motivated.

Goals serve as the basic organization feature of motivated behaviour (Ryan, 1970). In essence, they act as the compass that guides and directs a broad range of purposeful action (Amrose, el). Leaders and team members don't necessarily alway have the same goals. Team members can be motivated by personal goals such as protecting a reputation, financial gains, personal beliefs and values, career development, work-life balance and other personal interests. Team members can also be motivated by their love for the work and by wanting to learn and grow. Some team members can have work-avoidant goals (Meece & Holt, 1993), involving the desire to finish work as quickly as possible with as little effort as possible. Or they can have social goals, such as making friends and being part of a group.

The goal's importance is one of the key determinants how motivated someone is to achieve it. Wigfield and Eccles (1992,2000) suggest goals can have three types of values: attainment value, intrinsic and instrumental value.

Attainment value represents the satisfaction that one gains from mastery and accomplishment of the goal or task. For instance, a team member may work tirelessly on a customer proposal to achieve closing the deal.

Intrinsic motivation represents the satisfaction that one gains simply from doing the task rather than from a particular outcome of the task. Team members who are intrinsically motivated, are motivated by the work itself and their love for it. Intrinsically motivated team members often go the extra miles simply because the enjoyment it gives them working on the activity.

Instrumental value represents the degree to which an activity or goal helps one accomplish other important goals (Eccles & Wigfield), such as extrinsic rewards: praise, recognition, money, material goods, an interesting career and status.

Team members can be motivated by combinations of those value types, which don't have to be conflicting and can reinforce each other instead. If you want your team to learn and improve, you're going to need to find out what goals they value and how to align them with your and the overall team goals.

Besides valuing the goals, believing the goal can be attained is of as much importance. For instance, team members need to believe certain activities will lead to the desired outcome. For instance, a sales person needs to believe that cold calling prospective customers will lead to more sales. If she doesn't believe that, she won't be motivated to do that activities. They also need to believe they are capable and competent to perform the activities. If they believe that what they do does not influence a desired outcome, they won't be motivated. Maybe they don't believe they are able to, or that factors outside of their control determine the outcome. An important influence is their past experience of success and the reasons why they succeeded or failed. If they attribute past success to their own abilities and talents, they will more like believe they can do it again. If they attribute past success to factors they couldn't control, such as luck, they may not be as motivated this time.

Furthermore, perceptions of the work environment and climate also influences motivation. Team members can perceive the environment along the continuum from supportive to unsupportive (Ford, 1992). For instance, the work environment is supportive when team members know the team will be there to help if needed. It is unsupportive when team members don't want to share knowledge and information.

In conclusion, to maximize motivation, team leaders need to:

  • help set realistic goals that are highly valued by team members

  • help define activities the team believes with lead to the desired outcome 

  • and the team members need to believe they are capable - have the skills, knowledge and mentality - to achieve the goal

  • Create a supportive environment

The figure below shows motivation based on value, attainment and environment. Team member who see high value in a task and believe they can attain it, but do not see a supportive environment become defiant. They reject when the believe they are capable and evade when they don't see value. Of course, maximum motivation is when they see value, believe they can achieve the goal and are supported.


Some research based strategies to help establish value:

  • Align activities and goals with the interests of team members

  • Explain the importance of activities and goal better

  • Identify and reward what you value

  • Show your own passion and enthousiasm

Strategies that help build positive expectancies

  • Ensure alignment of goals and activities - so that the team believe the activities lead to goal attainment

  • Identify the appropriate level of challenge

  • Provide early success opportunities

  • Articulate your expectations - so that they know what the expected outcomes are and what you expect the team to do to reach those goals

  • Provide performance measures

  • Provide targeted feedback

  • Educate team members about the way we tend to explain success and failure (luck, external circumstances, effective strategies, etc)

  • Provide flexibility and control

The opportunity for leaders is having three clear levers to increase motivation. You can increase the value of the goal or the perception there of. You can increase the confidence that it can be achieved and develop capability - make the goal attainable. And you can create a supportive environment.


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