Individual Components of Motivation

Learning Outcome

  • Discuss the individual components of motivation

When managers reviews their team members, the biggest difference they may see in each individual is what motivates them.

Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivators

An illustration shows a person’s upper torso. An arrow on the left begins at the person’s chest and curves around to point inside the head; inside the curve of the arrow are the words “intrinsic motivation (from within)” and three bullet points: “autonomy,” “mastery,” “purpose.” An arrow on the right begins in empty space and curves to a point inside the head. Above the arrow are the words “extrinsic motivation (from outside)” and three bullet points: “compensation,” “punishment,” and “reward.”

Figure 1. Intrinsic motivation comes from within the individual, while extrinsic motivation comes from outside the individual.

For an individual there are intrinsic (internal) and extrinsic (external) motivating factors.

  • Intrinsic motivation comes from within, and it’s usually driven by individuals’ needs to do something for themselves. Each person has unique desires: they may want to learn a language or skill, or reach a goal of finishing a 5K in a certain amount of time. Intrinsic motivation is the reason why people climb mountains; they feel a calling to do so.
  • Extrinsic motivation comes from an external source. People may work a second (or third) job because they need additional money to pay the bills. Children may apologize to another child for not sharing their toys to avoid punishment from their parents.

An individual’s view of these intrinsic and extrinsic motivational factors is impacted by previous experience, current needs, gender, and personal and cultural values. For instance, some people may cite “personal satisfaction” and “job security” as motivational factors in their work, while others tend to site “status” and “wealth” as the reasons they get up in the morning. Some older workers cite “company loyalty” as a motivational factor while some Gen Xers and Millennials may be motivated by “job flexibility” and “challenging work.” Cultural norms can fall into play as well—European countries value vacation time and use quite a bit, while in the United States, workers may not even use the days they’ve been given.

Practice Question

Locus of Control and Self-Esteem

An individual’s personality can affect his or her perception of how effort leads to performance. Two personality aspects are particularly important in this scenario—locus of control and self-esteem. Locus of control is people’s perception of who has control over their lives, their environment, and external events. People who have an internal locus of control feel that their successes and failures are largely due to their own efforts, knowledge and choices. People with an external locus of control feel that external factors have an undue influence on the current situation they’re in.

Two silhouetted figures rest above a two-sided arrow. One end of the arrow indicates an internal locus of control and high self-esteem. The person above this end of the spectrum is labelled active, and states that they control their own destiny. The other end of the arrow indicates an external locus of control and a low self esteem. The person above this end of the spectrum is labelled passive, and states that others control their own destiny.

Figure 2. Your locus of control informs how you view your control over your own life.

There’s a spectrum of internal vs. external locus of control, and people can be very high on one end or the other (highly internal or highly external), or fall somewhere in between (Figure 2). People with a high internal locus tend to be more task oriented because they feel they’re in control of their own success. People with a high external locus credit luck, people in higher leadership positions, or divine powers for their successes or failures, and they tend to be more reactive to issues.

Locus of control is a fairly stable personality trait, though significant external factors can influence it (consider this study of Polish students whose locus of control shifted when democracy was introduced in their country).

Self-esteem interacts with motivation in a very similar way to locus of control. People with a high self-esteem tend to feel that their performance is linked to their own efforts. The opposite is often true for people who have lower self-esteem.

Managers need to understand these personality differences in their employees if they’re going to help them build the necessary links between “effort” and “performance” in the expectancy framework, and they can do this via encouragement and regular feedback for those that bring an external locus of control or low self-esteem to the team.

Employee Needs

After considering an employee’s personality traits, a manager must also consider his employee’s needs. Older approaches to understanding employee motivation focused almost solely on needs, and the more we learn the more we find that those early approaches aren’t necessarily accurate. This doesn’t mean that an employee’s needs don’t factor into motivation, because they do. On the expectancy framework, needs tend to influence an employee’s perception of the value of a proposed reward. For instance, a person who has wealth and status may look at a reward differently than a person who has less.

Beyond actual money, there are other needs that a manager can fulfill for his employees. Employees with a high need for achievement might enjoy public recognition, and getting recognized for their achievements can keep their motivational drive high. Some workers appreciate the opportunity to work independently, with less supervision. Others might appreciate the ability to work remotely so they can save money on their commutes and be closer to family that needs attention. Needs are very individual, and they’re not necessarily all filled by a paycheck and health benefits.

Cultural Differences

Finally, managers need to embrace cultural differences in order to understand what motivates their employees. Earlier, we illustrated some of the elements of the expectancy framework by using a scenario where the top salesperson would be offered a $1,000 bonus. We discussed how this may or may not motivate all the employees on the sales team, based on their perception of expectancy, instrumentality, and valence. In China, this proposal might not work at all, because their salespeople typically are compensated based on seniority, not on achievement. Cultural differences can often trip us up where motivational theories are concerned—where many of them work in our culture, that doesn’t hold true for others.

If a manager understands the individual component of motivation—the personality traits, needs, and cultural differences that factor into an employee’s willingness to put forth effort toward performance—he or she can tailor motivation for each employee.


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