Intrinsic motivation
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Intrinsic motivation
Buying Intrinsic Motivation totally misses the point
February 11, 2022
winning culture
How to Transplant a Winning Culture
March 30, 2022
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How Intrinsic Motivation is the foundation for this business’ success

Intrinsic motivation

The TR Group leaders are the first to say they don’t have THE answer. They have found a way of working that works for them. They don’t know if it would work somewhere else, still their approach of putting intrinsic motivation at the core of everything they do has turned TR Group into one of the most successful, enduring, and interesting businesses I know.

I recently had a conversation with Andrew Carpenter and Neil Bretherton, who started a trailer rental business as young lads in the early nineties. I wanted to talk to them as part of our series on using incentives to embed and sustain long-term behaviour change. I am in awe of these guys because I rate them amongst the most authentic leaders I know. I also know that the pair would have strong views on incentives. The conversation surfaced those views, plus more nuggets. I will report on the other nuggets in coming instalments, but today I want to deep-dive into intrinsic motivation at TR Group and why it is their secret sauce.

In the previous articles I asked you to forget about the stick and forget about the carrot. Punishment and reward are traditionally seen as motivators for great behaviour, great productivity, and great performance. However, these are fleeting, extrinsic influencers, not even motivators. You know the tools and their ‘effect’: bonus, employee-of-the-month, demotion, verbal warning; the list goes on.  Yet they are all extrinsic. With intrinsic motivation, people engage in behaviour because it is personally rewarding. They perform the tasks because it gives them satisfaction to do so.

Intrinsically motivated people are the holy grail of business performance. Create a culture where intrinsic motivation is pervasive and you are on your way to greatness, market leadership – no, global domination – in your sector. You should pay these people heaps – but then you completely miss the point. Money is another hygiene factor, not the determinant of success.

So, what does intrinsic motivation look like at TR Group? Andrew explains: “Intrinsic motivation only works in the long term when you find common ground between the things an individual wants to achieve and the things a group wants to achieve. You find that common ground when both are more likely to get what they want if they do this together. People come to join a team not because of anything other than their own desire to be part of the team. The group is giving them things they can’t get when they’re not in that team. And of course, the group wants them in the team because they contribute to the group, and the group achieves things together that it can’t without them as a member. And by-the-way, the ‘group’ is my word for a business, but it is more healthy to talk about them as a group of people”.

Neil adds: “People want to feel part of something and want an alignment between their personal values and the business values.”

Bestselling author and performance behaviour cult hero Daniel Pink describes the elements of intrinsic motivation as: “Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose.” I prefer the TR Group definition: “Competence, Autonomy and Relatedness,” and although it is easy to see significant overlap, I think it is a more kiwi explanation. Andrew says there is constant debate about which one is most important: “My answer now is competence. There is no greater feeling that people get when they are really, really good at what they do. And that the team they are part of helps them to be really, really good at what they do. Everybody is winning. If everybody in the team is really good at what they do, you’re an unstoppable force.”

It is the cycle of improvement that starts with competence that Andrew describes: “You build skills through learning, and you start to get results. Then you start you enjoy it, and you want to do more of it.”

“Reward and punishment is like attaching strings to people. Leaders who pull the strings are limiting themselves, as there are only so many strings you can coordinate effectively. Cut the strings, cut the reward and punishment that you are bringing to the table and allow people to find their own reward or punishment inside. People often set bigger challenges and beat themselves up more than we do. All they need is alignment and common purpose and let them go.”

TR Group build their culture from the ground up. That is easier than to shift an existing culture to an ideal blueprint you have in mind. But Andrew and Neil have experience in this too. Neil has proven this is possible when TR Group assimilated their TR Driver Training into TR Group. Andrew is leading the transition in their Australia acquisition. In the coming two instalments I will talk about how TR Group tackles such challenges. A teaser: their faith in the success of their model in an acquired new business is absolute.

Photo: Andrew Carpenter with his team at a Welcome Day

About the author: Geerten Lengkeek is the Managing Director of Productivity People