Despite the rising popularity of incentive pay, nothing motivates us better than having an internal and personal reason to do something, or so says a new study of some 11,000 military cadets. In the study, cadets were classified according to their reasons for entering the US Military Academy at West Point. Did they have an internal motivation (to become a strong leader), an external motivation (achieve good career prospects), or both? Perhaps not surprisingly, “the stronger their internal reasons were to attend West Point, the more likely cadets were to graduate and become commissioned officers.”
What’s the Big Idea?
What surprised researchers is that cadets with both internal and external motivation performed more poorly than those with purely internal motives–they achieved fewer promotions and were less likely to stay in the military after their five years of mandatory service. Researchers conclude that activities should be structured so that external consequences, such as making a better salary, do not become motives. “Helping people focus on the meaning and impact of their work, rather than on, say, the financial returns it will bring, may be the best way to improve not only the quality of their work but also — counterintuitive though it may seem — their financial success.”